Kyle Busch’s rally heats up frigid Bris­tol

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS | MLB - Mike Hem­bree

BRIS­TOL, Tenn. – Inns­bruck. Lake Placid. Lille­ham­mer. Sochi. Bris­tol?

An East Ten­nessee vis­i­tor who just hap­pened across Mon­day’s Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries race at Bris­tol Mo­tor Speed­way might have imag­ined this be­ing a Win­ter Olympics site.

The North Face jack­ets, blan­kets in the grand­stands and driv­ers wrap­ping them­selves in lay­ers — even, shock­ingly, cov­er­ing up spon­sor lo­gos — pro­vided clear ev­i­dence of the cold weather and the cut­ting wind whip­ping through the turns.

There was sleet — yes, sleet — in late morn­ing at this sta­ple of NASCAR rac­ing. For much of the day, tem­per­a­tures floated in the 30s. This in mid-April, long af­ter the Easter bunny’s de­par­ture and the blooms of early spring.

Af­ter snow at Martinsville Speed­way on race week­end three weeks ago and Sun­day-Mon­day’s bizarre weather at Bris­tol, one might be­gin to won­der about the ad­vis­abil­ity of rac­ing at South­ern short tracks be­fore July 4.

Over two days of rac­ing, BMS saw rain (some­times heavy, some­times just a heavy, an­noy­ing mist), sleet, what might be gen­er­ously de­scribed as a win­try mix, snow, three red flags (most races have none), two cau­tions for rain and fans run­ning back and forth to their cars or un­der the grand­stands in fu­tile at­tempts to out­wit the ag­gres­sive, wacky weather.

It wasn’t a long day at Bris­tol, as 500 laps around this tough bowl-shaped track are of­ten de­scribed. It was a long

two days. Two hun­dred and four laps were com­pleted on the orig­i­nal race day — Sun­day — be­fore NASCAR fi­nally bowed to the in­evitable and post­poned the re­main­der of the race to Mon­day, when weather was pre­dicted to be bet­ter. It was. Oc­ca­sion­ally.

In the end, the only win­ner was Kyle Busch, and that per­haps was the only thing about the whole Bris­tol ad­ven­ture that wasn’t sur­pris­ing.

Busch is a mas­ter at Bris­tol, even across a spec­trum of weather. His Mon­day win was his sev­enth here, in­creas­ing his lead as the ac­tive leader in that cat­e­gory. Al­though Kyle Lar­son (he’s still the

other Kyle) led big chunks of the two-day race (200 laps to­tal), he was ba­si­cally a sit­ting duck while hold­ing the lead in the fi­nal stages. Busch was on the move from sec­ond place, and Lar­son’s car wasn’t at its race-best.

With six laps to go, Busch bumped the rear of Lar­son’s car, send­ing it up the track be­tween turns three and four, a per­fectly ex­e­cuted bump-and-run. This was old-style rac­ing at Bris­tol, enough to bring forth waves of nos­tal­gia from the few thou­sand hardy fans sit­ting in the frigid grand­stands.

Busch was so strong and Lar­son was de­clin­ing so rapidly that Busch prob­a­bly would have run to the front eas­ily over the last five laps with­out the bump. Not wise to take chances, though, so Busch fol­lowed the log­i­cal path. Lar­son of­fered lit­tle re­sis­tance, ul­ti­mately fin­ish­ing sec­ond by 0.62 of a sec­ond.

Busch has started the sea­son in a big way. His record over the past six races is phe­nom­e­nal — fin­ishes of 2, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1. He leads the points race by 59 and has 12 play­off points, ty­ing Kevin Har­vick for the lead in that col­umn. Part of that suc­cess comes from hav­ing the same core of crew­men, along with crew chief Adam Stevens, for sev­eral years.

“Our group is pretty cool,” Busch said. “I en­joy work­ing with my guys an aw­ful lot, and I just feel like we’re click­ing on all eight cylin­ders right now. That’s just a great thing to have, and it gives you a lot of con­fi­dence when you can go to the race­track with these guys.”

That led to a friendly ex­change with team owner Joe Gibbs, who was sit­ting be­side Busch. “Joe is go­ing to have to pay them a lot in or­der to keep them all as a group, so that’s for­tu­nately not my prob­lem,” Busch said.

Gibbs was ready. “You’re mak­ing all the money; why don’t you pay them?” he said.

Busch replied that he might have to go to the “Tom Brady ef­fect” and take a cut in or­der to keep the team to­gether.

Might take a few ac­coun­tants to do all the fig­ur­ing.

As Busch rolled into vic­tory lane, light snow blew across the speed­way.

It was a log­i­cal me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal fin­ish to a strange visit to Bris­tol.

Kyle Busch cel­e­brates win­ning the Food City 500 at Bris­tol Mo­tor Speed­way, his sev­enth vic­tory at the track. MICHAEL SHROYER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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