Circling the Calendar

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 16, 2020) – The annual night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway has long been a staple on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. In fact, many argue that the annual 500-lap race is quickly becoming a crown jewel race on the calendar. To add to the growing excitement for Bristol’s fall race, Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race will be a part of the Cup Series playoffs for the first time ever. 

For one, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), had this race circled on the calendar even before the season as he has at least eight reasons why he’s looking forward to Bristol being part of the 2020 Cup Series playoffs. His eight wins at the “Last Great Colosseum” are the most among active drivers, and only his older brother Kurt is close in the number of wins with six.

Nine Cup Series victories at Bristol would send the younger Busch brother into a tie with some all-time greats of the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace all ended their careers at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile with nine victories. If Busch was to achieve nine Bristol wins, the next milestone would be Darrell Waltrip’s all-time record of 12 wins at the Tennessee short track. 

A win Saturday night for the Skittles driver would not only add to his career total at Bristol, but also vault him directly into the Round of 12 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs. Heading into this weekend’s race at the .533-mile concrete oval, Busch sits 18 points above the cutline to advance to the Round of 12, set to start next weekend at Busch’s hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

Busch, the two-time and defending Cup Series champion, holds the distinction of being the only driver in NASCAR history to win all three national series races in a single weekend, which he’s done twice at the .533-mile Bristol bullring. He captured the “Bristol Triple” in 2010 and 2017, when he swept NASCAR’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series races. In addition to his eight career Cup Series wins, Busch has notched 13 top-fives and 18 top-10s in 30 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”

While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Cup Series win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at Bristol than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch has seemed to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there as the new racing grooves there have better suited Busch’s driving style over the past several seasons.

This weekend, Busch will have Operation Gratitude on the back of his No. 18 Skittles Toyota at Bristol. Every year, Operation Gratitude sends 300,000-plus individually addressed care packages to soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen deployed overseas, to their children left behind, and to first responders, new recruits, veterans, wounded heroes, and their caregivers. Each package contains snacks, hygiene products, entertainment, and handmade items, as well as personal letters of support.   

So, as Busch and the Skittles team head to Bristol this weekend, a ninth victory there would not only put him alongside NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt, Yarborough, and Wallace, but also send him to the next round of the playoffs so he can take another step toward successfully defending his 2019 Cup Series championship. 

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 

What are your thoughts heading to Bristol Saturday and it being the first-ever playoff race at that track?

“I would like to get back to victory lane at Bristol, no doubt. We’ve had some decent runs there in the first race, and then the All-Star Race went even better for us. And we were close there at the end but we were just a little short on that last stage, being as short of a run as it was, it just didn’t give us enough time to give our car an opportunity to shine. We have not shown the short-run speed at Bristol, but we’ve always kind of been good after about 30 laps or so and our cars seems to really come in and run strong. It’s always a great racetrack to circle on the calendar and know it’s a time where we can shine. We also have Skittles on board again this weekend so, anytime we have the Skittles scheme on board, we’ve been hard to beat.” 

With no practice but two races at Bristol so far this year, does experience and success help give anyone an advantage on Saturday night? 

“Obviously, with the success we’ve had there over the years, I feel really good about going there. But we make a lot of adjustments typically when we get there. We go through practice, we are really fine-tuning a lot of different things and being nitpicky about a bunch of it to make sure we get it to where we want it for the race. Bristol is an important place because, if you are going to run the bottom for a while with that traction compound that’s put down there, as that wears, the groove is definitely going to move up around the top toward the end of the race and you have to be ready for a lot of versatility. So you definitely have to understand some of those adjustments during practice is a big deal and we won’t have that, so we just have to get after it right at the start of the race. I know our guys are up to the task and hope we can have a good Skittles Camry and have it with enough adjustability in it so we can make the right changes and have a shot at the win there.”

How important is your 16-year streak of winning at least one race?

“It’s really important. Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons, so hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17, and then to 18, or however many that I’m here. It would be nice if I’m able to keep winning races all the way through my career each and every single year that I’m out there. This year has just not lent itself to our favor, so far, but the playoffs are now and we’re still in this thing. We’ve got an opportunity to go out here, obviously being on the bottom side of the spectrum rather than the top side of the spectrum during the playoffs, so it’s going to be a different playoff for us than what we’re used to. Looking forward to the challenge and, if we can win it this year, then there’s no reason why any year we should ever not have an opportunity to win it.”

What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique? 

“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time, and sometimes a frustrating time when things don’t always go your way.”

What is your first memory of Bristol and what is your best story of success? 

“I remember my first time. It was in an Xfinity Series car at a test session for Hendrick Motorsports. I remember I needed about 27 laps before I thought I was going to knock the wall down, with all the optimism and pumped-up feelings I had about going there. But after that, it’s been pretty fun. We’ve had some challenging times there, but also I’ve had some good times there. Looking to continue that on Sunday with our Skittles Camry. What’s the highlight? You can’t dismiss the sweeps there. I would say that the first one was really, really awesome and really, really special, and the second one was special, as well.”

Notes of Interest:

  • The Bass Pro Shops Night Race will mark Kyle Busch’s 563rd career NASCAR Cup Series start and his 31st Cup Series start at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
  • Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 211 top-five finishes, 311 top-10s and 17,680 laps led in 562 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in his second Cup Series championship. Busch’s most recent pole, the 32nd of his career, came in November at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Busch has eight wins, 13 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s and has led a total of 2,434 laps in 30 career Cup Series starts at Bristol. Busch’s average Bristol finish is 13.1.