Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, as well as Friday’s Xfinity Series race, had most of the elements that made the summertime races at the Tennessee track crowd favorites.
Thanks to the application of a coat of resin on the lower edge of the bottom groove, there were two lanes for racing, although the top groove was the preferred line.
That meant lots of passing, and an occasional bump-and-run.
In both races, there were lead changes aplenty, and drama all the way up to the end – including several multi-car crashes that involved the sport’s top stars.
One of those swept up in wrecks was Kyle Busch, who led more than half the race – 256 laps – before a part broke on his No. 18 Toyota. He spun out and was struck by the No. 46 driven by Justin Allgaier.
There were also some surprises among the top finishers, including runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – the best he or any of his Roush Fenway Racing teammates have finished all season.
Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt, contended for the win, until he faded to fourth at the finish.
And Chris Buescher, a surprise winner at Pocono Raceway two races back, raced his way into the lead pack, finished fifth and moved into the top 30 in driver points. That puts him – for now – in position to claim a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kevin Harvick, who has seen several likely wins this season go by the wayside for one reason or another, prevailed at the end to score his second Cup win at Bristol – but his first in the night race – and the 33rd triumph of his Cup career.
It was the first Bristol win for his Stewart-Haas Racing team and the first Cup win in the Bristol night race for Chevrolet since 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. Harvick’s win, combined with Austin Dillon’s triumph in Friday’s Xfinity Series race, gave Chevy its first night-race weekend sweep since 1999, when the late Dale Earnhardt won the Cup race and Matt Kenseth, now driving Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the undercard in a Chevrolet.
The only thing missing was a large, enthusiastic crowd on Sunday afternoon. The grandstands were fairly full on Saturday night. But when rain stopped the race after just 38 laps on Saturday and persistent showers kept cars off the track until late Sunday afternoon, most of those fans had already left when the race finally resumed.
Harvick, in his winner’s interview, was among those praising the racing surface.
“I was excited that you were able to use the bottom of the race track, and the lapped cars had an option,” he said. “I really just want to applaud the race track for the effort that they made this weekend to really get that bottom groove working ... as a driver, you had a lot of options to ... maneuver through traffic and make up positions. We started 24th and pretty much drove through the field because of that.”
Harvick also called Friday’s Xfinity race a big success.
“I think Friday night was probably one of the best Xfinity races I’ve ever sat and watched,” he said. “Just really happy to see Bristol back where it is this weekend, and looking forward to coming back.”
Stenhouse, who came back from two laps behind to finish second, used the race to honor his friend, the late Bryan Clauson, who died in a sprint car crash two week before.
“We really wanted to get this Bryan Clauson tribute car in Victory Lane,” Stenhouse said. “It just wasn’t meant to be.
“We made our car a lot faster throughout the race and came from two laps down to get back on the lead lap. We missed some wrecks and gave it all we had.”
Stenhouse also thanked the fans who turned out for the race, which has struggled to fill seats for several years after a long string of sellouts.
“This place was pretty packed [Saturday] night,” he said. “Thanks to all the fans that were able to stay around [on Sunday].”