By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Angry and broken hearts galore during Saturday’s Bristol Night Race where a lot was on the line.
Some things ended up being the same as Kevin Harvick scored his ninth win of the year, leaving him just a victory away of being the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to get at least 10 wins in a single campaign.
Not only that, it was a 500-lap event filled with chaos as hoods popping, tires vibrating and even a little rivals battling it out for every single spot.
There’s so much to takeaway and ponder about, but there’s three that’ll stick out more than others. With that said, time for me to digest what went down in “Thunder Valley.”
Bridesmaid Once More for Kyle Busch
Like last week at Richmond Raceway with Hendrick Motorsports, it was a tale of two stories for a four-car stable. Two drivers had an outstanding night and the others having a rather not so subtle night.
Both Kyle Busch and Erik Jones were behind the 8-ball before the race began as both (along with Denny Hamlin) had to start in the rear for failing pre-race inspection twice. As expected, those guys didn’t waste any time to flourish and in no time, were in the mix for the top spots.
While Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. had some low points, Busch and Jones were the shining stars. Busch fought real hard to get his first win all season, but with 33 laps remaining, Harvick out ran him and once more has to wait another weekend to extend his win streak to 16 consecutive seasons.
Busch was pissed during his post-race video conference. Calling a guy like Joey Logano a person that “doesn’t have any friends for a reason” and applied that both Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley are a bunch of “dipshit” drivers who get in people’s way.
As you’d guessed, Busch was disappointed on not getting the job done as all the hard work was for not when he only mustered a runner-up finish. Especially, when he felt lapped cars hurt him significantly.
If there’s any positives from a runner-up finish at Bristol, those are making it into the Round of 12 and proving his No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry is strong. That’s the kind of sense of urgency Busch should carry going into his home track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday (7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Quiet Top Five Result for Jones
Jones on the other hand, his career is on the line due to the fact he doesn’t have anything set into stone next season. So a quiet yet necessary third-place finish could do many wonders for teams looking for a brand new driver.
Took him some time to claw his way towards a seventh top-five, but the biggest impression of his night was the final stretch. Jones really honed his craft in the final run where he felt and while he wasn’t in the incredible battle between Harvick and Busch, he wasn’t too far behind so he had the pace but ran out of time.
“I felt like we had a good car out there in the end. We had to start in the back and that took a while to work through there and get some track position. It’s pretty challenging to pass here even though it’s a short track. A good run,” said Jones.
“The Auto Owners Camry got better all night, and honestly, the last run of the race was our best. We got up there into third and I kind of knew I couldn’t beat those guys straight up. So, I tried to stay a little bit on the front half of the run and run at the end hard and just kind of ran out of time.
“I had just got to those guys when I took the checkered, so a good day. It was nice to be up there in contention at the end, but close again at Bristol. Especially in this race. We’ve been close a few times, just want to close one out here soon.”
Great seeing him have a stellar run because it has been such an inconsistent year that kept him out of the playoffs.
End of the Line for Byron
To absolute no one’s surprise in the eyes of many, drivers were upset with a Rick Ware Racing entry.
This time it was William Byron who blasted Joey Gase over the radio for not only causing him plowing into Christopher Bell, but it ended his shot of making the Round of 12.
He heads to the garage with significant damage to his No. 24. pic.twitter.com/lCZo5tsWZi
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 20, 2020
Byron felt that Gase checked up and literally stopped on the track which really left a sour taste on his mouth. I can’t honestly blame him feeling this way because he was having a top-10 run and knew what’s at steak.
“(Gase) just checked up in the middle of the straightaway and had nowhere to go and (Bell) slammed on the brakes to try to not hit him and I slammed into him because I was on his bumper,” said Byron. “So, just a terrible situation, but not really sure why that happened or what really transpired for him to stop like that. But, go back on SMT like we can now and look at what happened and move on.”
The gripe I have is that how many times backmarkers are going to be the bane of playoff driver’s existence, especially Rick Ware Racing?
It’s getting pretty baffling seeing this every so often, especially when there’s much at stake.
Busch a year ago at Las Vegas (and again tonight) called out Smithley for example due to impeding at a shot towards a stronger result. Stuff like that makes drivers who have a shot of winning the championship irate as hell. It’s a shame what happened because all it’ll do is give folks more reason to bash Gase and the entire stable for such incident.
It’s too bad NBCSN had nothing to show for the viewers at home because all we just know is Byron fell out of the race and Bell had rear damage. I swear back in the day, there were more cameras but I’ll spare my thoughts on race broadcasts for a different time.
Round of 16 is in the books and it’s not going to get any easier for the remaining 12 playoff drivers and the rest who are either trying to fight for a job or hoping they don’t impede in the championship chase.
All of those happened in a single night, so when it’s all set and done, it’s how I’ll remember this year’s night race.