A Busch win or Larson loss?

BRISTOL, Tenn. – It’s never easy to beat Kyle Busch at Bristol, but was Monday’s rain-delayed Food City 500 a Busch victory or a Kyle Larson loss?

Taking nothing away from Busch, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing here. He scored his 45th career victory and seventh at Bristol Motor Speedway, passing Larson just six laps from the finish.

It wasn’t a win that was handed to him in any manner. Busch was fast, and fortunate, and ended up in victory lane.

A bit of a nudge and a lead change in the closing laps for Larson, and the next thing you know the Chip Ganassi driver exits still with five wins and now with 16 runner-up finishes.

For someone who led twice as many laps as the next guy, that’s probably a tough one to swallow. Larson seemed to be the only driver able to pull away from the field Monday.

“I was just checked out on that long run” he said afterward.

But at the end …

“Not sure if the track changed a lot there or what,” he said, “but I lost the balance on the car.”

On Friday he was asked about previous races at Bristol and his inability to close the deal. It’s been, he said, his fault here at the fast, high-banked half-mile track.

“As the track changes I think I have to get a little bit smarter in how I communicate on what changes I think need to be done to the car to keep turned the corner good and having good grip,” he explained. “So, yeah, I would say it’s more on me … I don’t know why I have seemed to struggle, but it seems like everybody else just becomes a little bit better than I do the second half of the race, so maybe this weekend will be different.”

No one was better than Larson over the long run on Monday.

But in a race that took two days to complete due to rain and included 13 caution periods, long runs were about as scarce as blue skies and sunshine.

Jimmie Johnson finished third for his first top-five finish of the season and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman was fifth and that’s a step in the right direction for the four-team organization (William Byron was 18th and Chase Elliott 29th) that hasn’t had anything to brag about this year.

Likewise, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who finished fourth, ran strong much of the day Monday and that’s a boost for the Roush Fenway Racing camp. BMS has been one of his better tracks but it’s still a chore to run well here even when that’s the case so perhaps that bodes well for the No. 17 team going forward.

The problem with NASCAR-issued pit guns persists and it sounds as if that’s a situation that will be addressed when owners and officials meet later this week.

“NASCAR has been very good about working with us, and when we come up against a problem, we’ve been good about working hard to solve it,” Joe Gibbs, owner of the four-team Joe Gibbs Racing organization, said during his team’s post-race winner’s interview.

“I think we have a number of meetings this week with NASCAR, and I think we’ll be working on this and hopefully working towards a solution.”

Issues with the guns cost JGR driver Denny Hamlin the lead – the driver of the No. 11 Toyota was forced to pit road shortly after a restart to correct a loose wheel.

This is the first season NASCAR has required teams use pit guns supplied by an outside vendor and issued by the sanctioning body prior to each race. The move was made as a cost-cutting measure and at the behest of the ownership council.

Darrell Wallace finished 16th and if that’s all you know about the Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s day Monday at Bristol, you’re missing quite a bit.

Wallace ran in the top 10 for a good portion of the race. More impressively, he drove his way from sixth for first after a restart on lap 366.

It was the first time the No. 43 had been out front since the 2017 Daytona 500 with Aric Almirola.

“I was as surprised as anybody,” Wallace said. “… We were really good and that last caution came out and we were struggling with left front problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground. Then all of a sudden it went away there and man, just blindsided there by that.”

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