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:
Love him or hate him I feel he is the most all around talented driver I will ever witness in my lifetime. Congratulations @KyleBusch 🐐
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) August 20, 2017
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)