In a race fraught with tension, and with a pack of desperate drivers chasing him to the finish line, Kyle Busch held off Erik Jones to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR touring series with Saturday night’s Keystone victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series main event at the .533-mile concrete track, Busch capped a long weekend that saw him win Wednesday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event and Friday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
Having accomplished the same feat at Bristol in 2010, Busch was the only driver in NASCAR history to achieve the three-series sweep in the same week at the same track. Now he’s the only driver to have done it twice.
Dicing through traffic on the final 79-lap green-flag run, Busch crossed the finish line 1.422 seconds ahead of Jones, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, who will join the race winner as a teammate at Joe Gibbs racing next year.
“Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight,” said Busch, who won for the second time this season, the sixth time at Bristol (most among active drivers) and the 40th time in his career. “That’s all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging out. My arms were Jello and my throat hurts, but man that’s awesome.”
One bobble by Busch in the closing laps, however, and Jones could have usurped a playoff spot and made the lives of playoff hopefuls Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer much more stressful.
When the final green-flag run commenced on Lap 422 after the eighth caution of the race for Landon Cassill’s hard crash into the Turn 1 wall, Jones took off, with Busch and Kenseth trailing him. Kenseth grabbed the second spot on Lap 428, but Busch soon regained the position and made what proved to be the winning pass of Jones on Lap 445.
On the same lap, Kenseth slipped past Jones into second, but with a deft touch with his front bumper on lap 465, Jones broke Kenseth’s momentum and regained the second spot.
On the playoff bubble with two races left, Kenseth had two hopes: to win for himself to clinch a playoff berth and to keep Jones out of Victory Lane to keep the number of unique winners this season at 13, leaving three playoff spots open on points.
Kenseth, who will cede his ride in the No. 20 JGR Toyota to Jones in 2018, slipped to fourth at the finish but solidified his playoff position, moving past Jamie McMurray to eighth in the standings.
But Kenseth provided the line of the night in the media center after he was reminded that Jones had bumped him in the closing run.
“Takes my ride—and runs into me,” Kenseth quipped.
Jones, on the other hand, left the track thinking about what might have been.
The Cup Series has next weekend off but will return on Sunday, September 3rd for the Bojangles Southern 500 Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway, South Carolina. Get your tickets HERE.