NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Bristol With Late Restart

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Bristol With Late Restart

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kurt Busch returned to Victory Lane after a late-race battle with teammate Clint Bowyer. The annual night race saw all top three championship contenders suffer trouble, opening the door for a first-time winner to bust through. Busch took that opportunity and cruised to finish with a comfortable margin over Kyle Larson. Saturday night's race was a typical Bristol Motor Speedway race with contact, frustration and surprises. Busch was already confident of a playoff berth but he guaranteed himself a place in the elimination rounds with Saturday's win, his sixth at the circuit.

The series enters a brief week off before returning to action at Darlington Raceway. Two unique tracks await the final rounds of the regular season, and they are two of the biggest prizes on the annual calendar. Darlington's Labor Day classic and the Brickyard 400 are two races any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series driver would like to add to their resume, and the added bonus of a spot in the playoffs will make every team even hungrier.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – Busch came forward strongly in the closing stages of Saturday night's Bristol race to win his first race since the 2017 Daytona 500. He looked like the Busch of old, but fantasy players will realize that Busch is leaving Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the season to start yet another chapter in his long and successful career. He has been improving as this season advances and could be getting to his best at the perfect

Kurt Busch returned to Victory Lane after a late-race battle with teammate Clint Bowyer. The annual night race saw all top three championship contenders suffer trouble, opening the door for a first-time winner to bust through. Busch took that opportunity and cruised to finish with a comfortable margin over Kyle Larson. Saturday night's race was a typical Bristol Motor Speedway race with contact, frustration and surprises. Busch was already confident of a playoff berth but he guaranteed himself a place in the elimination rounds with Saturday's win, his sixth at the circuit.

The series enters a brief week off before returning to action at Darlington Raceway. Two unique tracks await the final rounds of the regular season, and they are two of the biggest prizes on the annual calendar. Darlington's Labor Day classic and the Brickyard 400 are two races any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series driver would like to add to their resume, and the added bonus of a spot in the playoffs will make every team even hungrier.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – Busch came forward strongly in the closing stages of Saturday night's Bristol race to win his first race since the 2017 Daytona 500. He looked like the Busch of old, but fantasy players will realize that Busch is leaving Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the season to start yet another chapter in his long and successful career. He has been improving as this season advances and could be getting to his best at the perfect moment. Some of that momentum should carry into next week, too. A Darlington win is still missing from Busch's resume, but three top-fives and seven top-10s from 21 starts isn't bad and should make fantasy owners take notice. He finished third there last year.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney jumped out to the front after the early restart Saturday night and held on to win the first stage over Kevin Harvick by the slimmest of margins. He maintained his position in the top 10 throughout the night and pulled together a seventh-place finish. A few more adjustments in the right direction at the right time could have propelled Blaney into the battle for the win, but another top-10 finish will go a long way toward building confidence as the playoffs approach. He has two more races to get everything in place for a championship fight, and a win would go a long way toward getting that job done. In three Darlington starts Blaney has a best finish of 13th, but watch his practice and qualifying pace.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was the first of the top runners to get on ahead on the changing Bristol surface. That early adaptation gave him plenty of force at the front until a tire issue forced him into a premature stop. He spent much of the race trying to return to the lead lap after that incident, but he eventually got back up there to finish 10th. It was a night where Harvick could have capitalized on the troubles of his two other rivals but he stumbled as well. Harvick has one Darlington win but has started from pole in three of the last five races there while also tallying four top-fives in the same span. He remains the title favorite and should be a top choice this week again.

Joey Logano – Logano surged to the front in the second stage to take his third stage victory of the season. The team hasn't been terribly competitive since their early-season win, but Logano discovered his form Saturday night. After taking the stage victory, he remained the best-positioned Penske Racing driver to fight for the win but just couldn't pull together the lap times necessary to challenge the leaders. Still, a fourth-place finish is a great result for a team working to get back on their game in the final races of the regular season. Logano has two top-fives in his last three Darlington starts and will be hoping to bring some of Saturday's momentum into the Labor Day weekend and ultimately the playoffs.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch's optimism for extending his domination at Bristol lasted just two laps Saturday night. The prerace favorite lost grip on the inside line and spun in front of the field before sustaining damage from contact as the drivers behind were left with nowhere to go. He was two laps down to the leader once he fully returned to racing with a long night still to come. However, he still had a fast car and got back on the lead lap for the final stage, ultimately walking away with a top-five. Had he not suffered that one small mistake, the race likely would easily have been his, giving him valuable stage points as well. Kyle won at Darlington in 2008 and hasn't finished worse than 11th at the track since 2009.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex's story from Saturday night was another one of missed opportunities. Watching his two championship rivals struggle throughout the distance lit the fire in Truex to earn his first-career short track victory. Doing so would have helped him close the tiny gap to the other two, but contact with Busch sent Truex into the inside wall and the oncoming J.J. Yeley. The contact knocked both cars out of the race and left Truex with classification in the 30th position. Truex said afterward that the incident was typical for Bristol and that he should have been more aggressive in making passes. Darlington is another track where frustration can be a factor, but Truex should master it. He has three top-10s and a win in his last three starts there.

Paul Menard – Menard's night in Bristol started brightly but faded quickly. He was running in second prior to the first caution but suffered front-end issues when racing resumed. The problem quickly worsened, and not too much later he clouted the wall, which put him out of the race for good. Menard faces a must-win situation in the next two races to gain entry into the playoffs. He has never even finished in the top 10 at Darlington and will likely be hoping for another upset victory like his 2011 Brickyard 400 win. While he won't be looking past a top performance in the next race, he might feel that he could be more successful in the regular-season finale instead.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse's last best opportunity to win and guarantee himself a spot in the playoffs was Bristol. He was quick throughout the weekend, but began suffering problems in the second stage. He was about to take the lead on a restart when a pit road speeding penalty put him at the back. He then endured an unscheduled pit stop and went a lap down in a frustrating night. A night that should have seen him walk away with a top-10 gave him a lowly 24th-place finish and added another dent to his playoff hopes. Stenhouse's best Darlington finish is 18th, which he has done twice in five starts. His average finish is 24.6, and that isn't enough to boost his hopes with just two regular-season races remaining.

Aric Almirola – Almirola was black-flagged while running inside the top five Saturday night. It had been shaping up to be a good race with Almirola in striking distance of the lead and potentially putting himself into contention to battle for the win in the final laps. Instead a mechanical issue left him on pit road and down multiple laps just when things were looking promising. While fantasy owners shouldn't necessarily judge his potential at tracks this season by his past history, Darlington may be one to give them pause. Almirola's best finish at the track was 11th in 2015, but his average finish is 21.0. He's now the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver without a 2018 victory.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kyle Larson – Larson left a lot of expectations unfilled in Bristol. Despite being fastest just about every time he was on track, he couldn't pull things together in the race. He lost a handle on the changing track early and didn't have the pace necessary to recover at the end when things started to move back into his favor. Larson continues to show promise but struggles to deliver. The team is still chasing their first win of 2018. While they don't need it to make the playoffs, a victory would inject confidence in the organization that has come close too many times this season. While waiting to win until the playoffs commence isn't unprecedented it certainly isn't preferred.

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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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