March 15, 2014 — By Seth Livingstone, NASCAR Wire Service — Jerry Markland/Getty Images photo — BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Larson had a plan in mind for the finish. But Kyle Busch has it all figured out at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch became the first driver in history to post 16 victories at a single track in NASCAR’s three national touring series, pulling away from the field after the final restart with nine laps remaining, to win Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes.
Busch, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner at Bristol, won for the sixth time in his last eight NASCAR Nationwide Series starts on the .533-mile track.
Larson, who battled side-by-side with Busch in the final laps of last year’s Nationwide race at Bristol, took second place from Kevin Harvick with seven laps remaining but had no shot at catching Busch.
“I was not going to be as nice as I was last year,” said Larson, envisioning a replay of his 2013 battle to the wire at Bristol in which he came up 0.023 seconds short.
But plans to thwart Busch never materialized. Larson slipped up the track, too high, and Busch pulled away to win by 1.441 seconds.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re cheering or booing,” said Busch, who has seven victories and 16 top-10 finishes in 20 career Nationwide starts at Bristol. “Hopefully we can sweep the weekend.”
Larson, who started on the Coors Light Pole, was the only driver besides Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth to lead a lap. Busch led the final 91 on his way to his celebratory burnout.
“When I got too high in (Turns) 1 and 2 and Kevin (Harvick) got to my inside, I knew that was it for the race,” said Larson, who has top-10 finishes in each of his three Nationwide starts at Bristol. “I knew I had to hold on for second.”
Busch remains hard-pressed to come up with a definitive reason for his success at Bristol.
“My first time here in 2004 was a test with my Hendrick (Motorsports) Nationwide guys,” he recalled. “My throttle hung going into Turn 1 and I killed the car.
“(Since then) I’ve sort of figured it out, started running up front, leading laps, winning races. Why that all is, I don’t know. I just enjoy coming to banked race tracks. Bristol reminds me a bit of one of my favorite tracks where I ran late models, Winchester (Speedway) in Indiana.”
Busch had his hands full with Kenseth for much of Saturday’s race. Kenseth, driving his first Nationwide Series race at Bristol since 2009, led 178 of the first 209 laps but finished fifth behind Ryan Blaney.
“Kenseth was lightning fast much of the day and I was having a hard time catching him,” Busch said. “The biggest thing was that the track changed so much from practice. It was entirely different — not even close. Adam (Stevens, Busch’s crew chief) made some really good calls on the pit box trying to free me up.”
Kenseth’s struggles came in traffic and trying to make up ground when restarting on the bottom.
“We had a good car, early, and in the whole race but just kind of got picked in traffic,” Kenseth said. “Once (Busch) got the lead, it was hard to beat him.”
Rounding out the top 10 were Ty Dillon (the highest-finishing rookie), Brendan Gaughan, Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith, who continues to lead the series points standings, one point ahead of Bayne.
Cale Conley, making his Nationwide debut for Richard Childress Racing, made a strong showing, running in the top 15 all afternoon and finishing 11th.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to action next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.