Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson repeated their results of a year ago when the NASCAR Nationwide Series ran the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway on Saturday, with Buch claiming the win and Larson finishing second. It was Busch’s third-straight Nationwide win at Bristol and the seventh series win of his career there. His lastest victory was also his 16th across all three of NASCAR’s national series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck) at the East Tennessee track. It was the fourth-straight Bristol win for crew chief Adam Stevens.
“The biggest thing was just how much the track changed from practice,” Busch said. “It was entirely different, not even close. We really had to change our car a lot today. Adam made some really good calls on the pit box and tried to get me freed up and trying to get me to where I could roll and make some speed up.”
Another Sprint Cup regular, Kevin Harvick, finished third, while Camping World Truck Series regular Ryan Blaney took fourth and yet another Sprint Cup driver, Matt Kenseth, rounded out the top-five.
The trio of Busch, Kenseth and Harvick dominated the top-three of the running order for much of the race, with Kenseth running up front for over half the race, leading 178 laps of the 300-lap distance. Busch was credited with leading 120 laps, while Larson was the only other lap leader, leading the first two laps of the race after starting from the pole.
Soon after Busch took the lead from Larson on lap three, Kenseth and Harvick also got by Larson for second and third. Kenseth then took the top spot from Busch on lap 30. Once Kenseth got up front, he set such a blistering pace that his race pace, along with a lack of cautions in the early going, resulted in only six cars being on the lead lap when the yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 95. Aside from Kenseth, Busch, Harvick and Larson, the only two series regulars on the lead lap at that point were Regan Smith and Brendan Gaughan.
The lead lap got beefed up, though, when the next caution came out on lap 135. Chase Elliott got the free pass and several other drivers, including Ty Dillon, Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney, took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap.
Kenseth continued to lead the way until Busch got by him in lap traffic just before another caution with 87 laps to go. Busch remaining up front the rest of the way.
“We had a good car early in the whole race and just kind of got picked in lap traffic,” Kenseth said. “I was being as aggressive as I could without wrecking. Kyle got by me in lapped traffic and that was kind of the difference, honestly. After that, we had four or five restarts or something; we were on the bottom in every one. We would lose two or three spots like everybody would that started on the bottom and just could never get it back.”
Kenseth and Harvick had trouble holding on to their positions up front throughout the remainder of the race when they kept getting caught in the slower inside line on restarts. Harvick fell back as far as fifth in the late laps, but was able to recover, somewhat, to finish third.
“I felt like we were actually better than both of them (Busch and Larson) at the end,” Harvick said.
Larson, though, found himself on the outside, right behind Busch, for the final restart of the race with nine laps remaining. Being in the faster line, he went from fourth to second on the restart and maintained the position for the remaining laps.
Dillon was the highest-finishing Nationwide championship-eligible driver, finishing in the sixth position. Gaughan wound up seventh, Trevor Bayne eighth, Elliott ninth, and Smith rounded out the top-10.
Before you go, check out this photo gallery of images from Saturday’s Nationwide race at Bristol (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):