NASCAR Barometer: Busch Steals Bristol Dirt Win

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Steals Bristol Dirt Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

After a dusty debut in 2021, the Bristol Dirt Track made its second appearance on the schedule Easter Sunday under the lights. The shift in time helped make the surface more raceable, and Kyle Busch stunned the crowd as he snuck through Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe as the pair made contact with one another as they battled for the lead in the final turn. As the first- and second-place runners lost control and spun, Busch was in position to drive through and beat Reddick at the finish line by less than half a second. Busch admitted after the race that he snuck the win, but a win is a win, and he needed one. His victory was another blow to Reddick who has been competitive all season but has yet to earn his first trip to Victory Lane. Busch was the eighth different winner so far this season, which leaves the remainder of the garage scrambling to fill the final eight playoff spots left with 17 races remaining before the elimination rounds begin.

Up next on the road to the championship fight is Talladega Superspeedway. The teams and drivers will need to reset their approaches to the race after three consecutive short-track races. Brad Keselowski won the spring race last season while Bubba Wallace grabbed his first series win in the fall's rain-shortened event. 

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch led just one lap Sunday night at Bristol, but it was the most important one. The former champion complained throughout

After a dusty debut in 2021, the Bristol Dirt Track made its second appearance on the schedule Easter Sunday under the lights. The shift in time helped make the surface more raceable, and Kyle Busch stunned the crowd as he snuck through Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe as the pair made contact with one another as they battled for the lead in the final turn. As the first- and second-place runners lost control and spun, Busch was in position to drive through and beat Reddick at the finish line by less than half a second. Busch admitted after the race that he snuck the win, but a win is a win, and he needed one. His victory was another blow to Reddick who has been competitive all season but has yet to earn his first trip to Victory Lane. Busch was the eighth different winner so far this season, which leaves the remainder of the garage scrambling to fill the final eight playoff spots left with 17 races remaining before the elimination rounds begin.

Up next on the road to the championship fight is Talladega Superspeedway. The teams and drivers will need to reset their approaches to the race after three consecutive short-track races. Brad Keselowski won the spring race last season while Bubba Wallace grabbed his first series win in the fall's rain-shortened event. 

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch led just one lap Sunday night at Bristol, but it was the most important one. The former champion complained throughout the night that his car was negatively impacted following the spurts of rain. He was a distant third entering the final lap as Briscoe and Reddick made contact in the final turn sending both cars spinning and opening the door for Busch to drive through to the lead at the line. The margin of victory being just a scant third of a second. The win extended Busch's run of consecutive seasons with a victory to 18, matching the great Richard Petty. Busch will hit the track at Talladega this weekend for his 34th series start at the track. He has one win there from 2008.

Tyler Reddick – Sunday night's  dirt race was a heartbreaker for Reddick. He was within one corner of claiming his first victory in the series when he was tapped in the side from a lunge that sent him spinning out of the lead. He quickly recovered, but not fast enough to hold off Busch at the line. Reddick has been sniffing out Victory Lane throughout the early races this season, and it seemed the breakthrough was going to come at Bristol, until it didn't. That long awaited win could come shortly, though. He'll get another chance again at Talladega this week, which is another track at which Richard Childress Racing can succeed. He has two seventh-place finishes there in his four series starts with 23 laps led.

Kyle Larson – There were high expectations for Larson at the lone dirt race on the Cup Series calendar. Last year he crashed out early, which meant this year was the first he was truly able to put his skills to the test. He did well, too. He won the first stage by leading the final 27 laps of the segment. His real ability showed in the final stage when he started deep in the field but mounted a charge to climb to fourth at the finish. While he said he had a good car, he felt it could have been even better and that the intermittent rain left him and the team challenged on their approach. His skill on dirt showed as he charged to his fourth top-five finish of the season. He has a different challenge in store this week at Talladega, though. He only has two top-10s from 14 starts there and hasn't finished inside the top 20 there since 2018.

Chase Briscoe – Once again Briscoe showed himself capable of winning in NASCAR's top series. He already has the Phoenix win under his belt from earlier this season and nearly had another Sunday at Bristol. He led 59 total laps and took the stage two victory. In the end, he only missed a top finish (or the overall win) when he lunged inside Reddick in the final corner and made contact. Briscoe's spin resulting from the contact enabled nearly all of the cars that were still on the lead lap by the finish line, and his 22nd-place finish was not at all representative of what could have been. He still has a 2022 win, however, and should continue to have shots at winning. Talladega could be one of them, too. Briscoe finished in the top 15 in both stops there last season.

Daniel Suarez – Suarez impressed on the dirt for the second year in a row. After earning Trackhouse Racing's first top-five in last year's race, he used pit strategy to start the second stage in the led. He went on to lead 64 laps before being passed by Christopher Bell, finishing the stage in third. After the rain and a pit stop, he restarted deep in the field but climbed back to finish in 12th. While he might have earned a win if the race was called due to rain while he was in the lead,  those circumstances didn't materialize and the race went the distance. Suarez could be a factor this week at Talladega. He was 18th in the Daytona 500 and grabbed one of his two top-fives so far this season at Atlanta. His best Talladega finish was 10th in 2018.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick's night ended prematurely when Corey Lajoie spun in front of him and left him with no chance to avoid a multicar accident. Harvick connected with Lajoie's machine as it was spinning and was also struck by Noah Gragson. The contact left Harvick with irreparable damage to his front wheel and put him out of the race at the 100-lap mark. His 24th-place finish was his worst result since the Daytona 500 and ended a three race run of top-15 finishes. Harvick hasn't had his greatest races at superspeedways recently either. He crashed out of the Daytona 500 in February. His only Talladega win came in 2010, too. This week might be one he looks to just survive. He has a good chance of doing so, as he finished fourth and eighth in the 2021 races there.

Denny Hamlin – Despite winning at Richmond, Hamlin's luck still hasn't turned for the better. He was one of the first out of the dirt adventure after suffering engine trouble less than 100 laps into the race. Hamlin and the No. 11 team seem far from the top spot they traditionally occupy in the Cup Series pecking order. Aside from that lone win, Hamlin's best finish this year is 13th at Phoenix. The team has a lot of work to do to get back up to speed and shake the misfortune that they've encountered. Talladega's unpredictability may not give them the confidence they need to right the ship this week, either, but Hamlin won at the track twice. He also qualified on pole in the last three races there. However, to get another top finish, he'll have to have luck on his side, which seems in short supply for him right now.

Austin Dillon – Dillon was looking forward to his chances Sunday night on the dirt, but his hopes were dashed late in the race when his car suddenly slowed in front of the field and coasted to a halt. The issue was so sudden it caught many drivers off guard and left others out of the race after making contact trying to avoid the No. 3 machine. It was disappointing for him after he finished fourth in the first stage and was getting toward the front again for the finish. While his hopes of a win or top finish didn't come to fruition at Bristol, superspeedways are a strong suit for him. Dillon has a Daytona victory and four top-10s at Talladega. His last three races there were all finishes of 12th or better, too. More aggressive fantasy players may consider him this coming week, while more conservative players will wait to see how he responds to last week's disappointment.

Kurt Busch – Dillon's sudden loss of speed caught Busch in a spot where he wasn't able to take evasive action. Though Busch tried to avoid Dillon's slowing car, he made slight contact that sent him into the outside wall. Busch went to his team to have repairs made but ultimately exited the car and ended his night early. To make matters worse, he missed out on stage points in both opening segments, too. Busch now looks toward next week's race sitting 21st in points and needing a way to move forward and score a victory. While Busch is excellent at navigating the draft at the superspeedways, he has never won at Talladega. He has 22 top-10s from 42 starts at the track including a fourth-place finish there last fall. 

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Michael McDowell – McDowell isn't a driver who would have immediately jumped to the top of anyone's favorites list on Bristol's dirt surface, but he definitely put in a top performance last Sunday. Last year's Daytona 500 champion walked away from the unpredictable night with a ninth-place finish, his second top-10 of the season. Sunday night's success could be a good omen for fantasy players to keep in mind this week, too. McDowell's last top-10 was in the Daytona 500, and we know he can outperform his typical expectations at superspeedways. He has two top-five finishes from 22 starts at Talladega, including his third-place finish from the rain-shortened spring race last season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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