The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol Night Race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…

1. Kyle Busch drinks his haters’ tears

At a Toyota appearance on Saturday morning, a fan in attendance stood there and gave Kyle Busch one long, continuous middle finger.

“I know I’m number one,” Busch told the fan. “I’ve been number one the past two nights.”

So then the fan gave him a double bird.

“All you’re doing is solidifying what I already know,” Busch said.

Like the greatest of wrestling heels, Busch has gone full villain this season as he’s come to terms with the fact he’s never going to be the most popular driver. It doesn’t seem to bother him anymore — and yes, it definitely did at one time — so he’s soaking up the hate instead.

As Busch was showered with boos from the 100,000-plus fans at Bristol after completing the three-race weekend sweep, Busch cupped his ears for more. Then, as the volume increased, he flashed three fingers — not Three for Dale, but three for the sweep.

To add insult to their injured feelings, Busch then climbed on top of his car, parked right on the frontstretch, and swept the roof with a broom.

“I’m sure they’re still booing and whining and crying all the way home tonight. They’re driving home mad,” he said later, then smirked. “So people, be careful.”

For Kyle Busch Haters, a group of people that probably rivals the size of Junior Nation, this weekend was absolutely disgusting. He dominated two lower-series races with glee (“In your face!” he yelled on the radio after winning Trucks) and then whooped everyone in the Cup race.

But I’ve got to confess something: The more Busch irritates people, the more hilarious I think it is. Seriously, Busch haters get SO twisted up when he wins and their livid reactions are so disproportionate to the outrage over everything in the real world that it’s just flat-out funny to me.

The hate is so commonplace now, it doesn’t affect him. He’s used to it, and he might even thrive off it.

Personally, I think he’s the most interesting character in NASCAR these days. And even though he can be a pain in the ass at times, I sure am glad he’s around to give me something to write about and talk about.

2. Yes, he’s that damn good

To those who truly despise Busch — even you have to admit we’re watching one of the great talents of all time, right?

I mean, check out this tweet from Kyle Larson from Saturday night:

Could Kyle Busch actually be the GOAT, as Larson’s tweet suggested? I can only speak in NASCAR terms on this, so you can debate sprint car drivers and other racers Larson may be including in the conversation. But in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson has won six more championships, Jeff Gordon won a lot more races and Tony Stewart was more versatile as far as winning in different types of cars.

And yet, when it comes to sitting in the stands and watching which driver wheels the car the best, I think Larson may be right: Busch may be the best pure talent of his generation.

Yes, of course he’s driving the best cars in the lower series and makes it seem easy when he has a speeding penalty and gets back to the front in 50 laps (probably because it is easy for him).

But when he does it in the Cup Series, against the best drivers and teams, and makes it look like he’s back in an Xfinity race? Well, that’s damn impressive. It just is.

Busch now has 40 Cup wins, which tied Mark Martin on the all-time list. And he’s only 32! He probably has 10 more years in his prime to rack up more victories.

I’m not advocating for people to start liking Busch, because his attitude and demeanor and lack of grace are massive turnoffs to many fans in a sport where drivers are often judged on personality as much as results. And I’m also not suggesting people start enjoying what they’re seeing, because people need someone to root against.

But as a longtime Denver Broncos fan, I compare it to Tom Brady. I can’t STAND Brady, but I still recognize he’s probably the best quarterback ever (which is painful to admit).

So you truly have to respect Busch as one of the best and appreciate what we’re seeing. And if you can’t, your bitterness is getting in the way.

3. Erik Jones making big gains

Remember earlier in the season when the No. 77 car looked fast every week but always had something bad happen? Those days seem gone now.

Erik Jones has six DNFs due to crashes this season — many of which were not his fault but some which happened after he put himself in bad positions. But Jones really seems to be finishing races lately.

He’s reeled off four straight top-10 finishes, including a third at Michigan and now a career-best second at Bristol. And he led a race-high 260 laps during nine different times in the race, which is pretty impressive.

It’s a shame he’s likely going to miss the playoffs, because he’s coming on really strong at the right time. But I have a feeling he’ll be a playoff fixture in the future, though.

4. More frustration for Dale Jr.

At the tweetup on Saturday, a few of us started daydreaming about what it would be like if Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Bristol race.

Can you imagine? It would be even better than the 2001 Pepsi 400! The whole stadium would go freaking nuts!


But that was just a fantasy, because Earnhardt never had a chance after being way off in practice and qualifying 31st.

“I couldn’t find any speed out there,” he said afterward. “Whatever we got wrong came from the shop. You’re not going to fix it on that racetrack from pit road. We just missed the setup, big time.”

The struggles Earnhardt experienced all weekend at Bristol reminded me of the Lance McGrew Era. Personally, I thought it was the most frustrated I’d heard Earnhardt on the radio this season, but he disagreed.

“It’s frustrating every week, you know?” he said. “I don’t know how to quantify frustration. I don’t know how to measure it. None of it is good. We want to compete and run well this last season. I don’t want to be out there just packing it in. It’s a lot of work to run 23rd, I’ll say that.”

Earnhardt deserves a better ending than this season is shaping up to be, similar to what Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart got.

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like that might not happen — and that sucks for everyone.

5. Two to go!

It’s almost playoff time, and the picture is getting a bit clearer now that there are two races left where upset winners are a rarity.

Actually, I’m having a hard time seeing how the 16 drivers currently in the field change after Darlington and Richmond (you can see the standings below).

There are only three spots left, and it’s not close on points at all. Clint Bowyer is 58 points out — nearly an entire race — and he’s the only driver within 100 points (Joey Logano is 117 points out).

So that means someone like Logano would have to win Darlington or Richmond to get in. And really, is Logano even running well enough to do that right now? It doesn’t seem like it, even though he’s great at Richmond and had the encumbered win there in the spring.

There are no more upset winner type tracks, which lessens the chances Jones or Daniel Suarez could pick up their first career victories in the next two weeks.

Anyway, I think you’re already looking at this year’s playoff field, which is below.



By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble with two races to go:

14. Chase Elliott +69

15. Matt Kenseth +61

16. Jamie McMurray +58


17. Clint Bowyer -58

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

19 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol Night Race”

  1. 1. Kyle Busch hater gave him a double bird? Too bad he doesn’t have three fingers, lol.

    2. I have been saying this for a while, JJ is not the GOAT of NASCAR. And I think Kyle Busch has proved that he just took the title of GOAT.

    (I seriously would like to see what each driver could do with different crew chiefs and different equipment, though. Then we could make a decent judgment call for sure.)

    1. Jimmie has had one crew chief his whole cup career. KB has had numerous and wins w all of them.

  2. I do believe Kyle is very talented. I respect that. I just don’t understand why he CHOOSES to be such a f’ing d’bag.

  3. I will give you Kyle is an extraordinarily talented driver, he’ll put his car where others wouldn’t ever even dream but until he wins 80+ races or 5 straight Championships he can’t even touch Jimmie Johnson. I’ve saw JJ pull off some pretty wicked saves and come back and win when everyone had him out of the game. How many times have we said/heard/read that Jimmie is the most underrated driver out there.
    Then there’s Kyle’s punk ass “I’m mad I didn’t win” attitude, can’t stand it. I used to feel bad for him because I thought he inherited Kurt’s haters but he could have changed all of that “IF” he would’ve been a more gracious loser.
    As for the booing fans, I think it really sucks on their part we they boo a man when he has his little boy or girl with them. Just shows how #classless they are.

    Concerning Dale Jr. all I can say is πŸ’”πŸ˜žπŸ˜’πŸ˜­

  4. It is fine that Busch hates the haters when he wins. I love it! His bow puts a smile on my face. He has to put on his big-boy pants and take the heat when things don’t go his way as well.

    If he needs a class in handling adversity, he can watch Dale Jr this year. You can tell he hates it, but he still says what is on his mind and I wouldn’t feel bad if a kid saw it.

  5. Wow.. that comment about the guy flipping him off the whole time!? Get a life people.. that’s so funny it’s sad.

  6. IMO, Busch the family man, husband, team mate does feel that hate somewhere deep inside him and sometime in the far future, when his life is dissected, we’ll know it, too. In the meantime he will continue to propagate the haters band wagon and have fun with it. After all, hating Busch is actually just another wonderful band wagon Nascar fans have jumped on. But thank goodness I’m not on that particular bandwagon. :>)

  7. Kyle Busch, I have to agree with pretty much everything you said. He has rubbed me the wrong way oh so many times – but I will always give someone credit where credit is due. He is masterful behind the wheel. Each week I will cheer on whoever is in front – or behind – him. And all the while commenting just how dang good he is. Confuses my hubby lol. As for Junior, I feel so for him. This year has been mishap after mishap and just…. well in my unqualified opinion, part of me thinks that what happened last year (with the wreck) spooked him. And he is perhaps driving reservedly, which I can understand. But man how I would so love to see him go out on top. Great article Jeff.

  8. NASCAR is becoming F1. Totally dominated by a 1 manufacturer. It’s crazy. Their 2 biggest competitors, Penske and Ganassi haven’t been as fast since they were caught cheating. The 2, 21, 22, and 42 were leading tons of laps early, not now. Even the 1 is slower now. Ford has gotten on the same page engine wise, but unless Chevy and Ford change their model to what Toyota has, it’s lights out.

  9. I started following NASCAR in 2009 (after my daughter took me to a local short track) and I thought KB was a douche. After watching him these last 9 years I’ve not only come to appreciate his skills but admire them. He’s not “my” guy but man he can drive the wheels off anything he touches. People don’t get how hard it is to sweep anywhere, but Bristol? Twice!! Come on folks, the man can drive and I don’t care about the rest….

  10. Home run Jeff! You nailed the summary of Kyle Busch exactly right. You keep writing insightfully like this and I will keep supporting your work.

  11. I don’t think any sports figure should be labeled as GOAT until they have been out of the sport for 5 years. Only then can the accomplishments be filtered through the lens of time to be put into perspective. While stats are the go to place to start, they can also be misleading. There are other aspects that need to be taken into account. I suppose just to be mentioned as a possible GOAT is all that matters because it is impossible to really prove someone was the GOAT.

    With all that said, there is no doubt that Kyle Busch is one of the greats. It’s just too bad that he won’t behave like a professional. In the end you aren’t judged by how you act when things are going well, you are judged by how you act when they don’t go your way.

  12. I like what you said Jeff!
    I have admired KyBu’s driving from the get-go! What I don’t get is why is it OK for, say JJ, to whine & act all “poor me” when things don’t go his way, or AD to act all smug & stuck up (due to his lineage maybe, who knows), but when Kyle gets P.O.d he’s being a jerk? Newsflash…they ALL do it! Just how many drivers have gotten into fistfights for pete’s sake? He’s emotional, he’s passionate about his driving. I don’t see anything wrong with that at all! If he doesn’t want to be interviewed after things don’t go his way, what’s the big deal? If he knows he’s to upset to be on camera where little kids will be watching, well to me that shows class & maturity. I would rather see my driver escape the media & go calm down somewhere private than see him put on a phony attitude or persona, or be all poor me, or cus up a blue streak on national live tv because he hadn’t reined in his emotions yet.
    Bravo Kyle! You have done things no other driver has! On & off the track! Your charitable contributions over the years are immeasurable. You are the GOAT! Keep on amazing me & your fans of Rowdy Nation!
    Haters maybe just need to grow up. There are a couple drivers I absolutely cannot stand the sight of. But I’m a grownup. I’ll keep those comments to myself.

  13. The comparison to Tom Brady is completely on target. He has been voted the Most Hated Player in the NFL, but he is also the most dominant player, the player everyone else wants on their team, and arguably the greatest QB of all time. People don’t like his cockiness to the point of arrogance on the field. But off the field, he appears to be a caring family man. Again, the comparison to Kyle with his wife and adored son is apt.

    And for all the animus over his participation in the lower series, Kyle has used his ability to draw sponsors to give chances to a slew of young drivers who would never have had a chance for a NASCAR touring series ride without him. The list is too lengthy to remember them all, but includes Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell, Noah Gragson, Matt Tifft, Myatt Snyder, and Harrison Burton.

    It is really the haters among the fans who need to grow up and show some grace. Fans of all sports can be d-bags, but NASCAR fans seem especially to embrace hatred over admiration. Maybe it’s the fact y’all still cant get over losing the Civil War, but you folks are a strange breed of whiners and malcontents.

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