NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR: No Big 3, no young guns, no problem? Bristol still delivers something special

Saturday’s win at Bristol Motor Speedway is Kurt Busch’s first since last season’s Daytona 500. Busch was already a near-playoff lock, but that’s no substitute for a trophy — this is his sixth from Bristol alone — and a champagne shower in Victory Lane.
Saturday’s win at Bristol Motor Speedway is Kurt Busch’s first since last season’s Daytona 500. Busch was already a near-playoff lock, but that’s no substitute for a trophy — this is his sixth from Bristol alone — and a champagne shower in Victory Lane. AP

The way the current NASCAR season has unfolded, our storylines are as tired and worn out as any set of Goodyear tires.

And really, who can argue that? Turn on 15 minutes of any NASCAR recap show or race replay, and you’ll hear announcers monologuing about the “Big 3” of Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Now, there’s good reason for that — they have won 17 of this year’s 24 Cup Series races, after all — but that’s all there is to talk about? You know there’s something of a void of topics when we’re making up nicknames for people we discuss them so option.

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If not the Big 3, though, then we’ve latched onto NASCAR’s predetermined, prescribed talking point for this year: young guns. Guys like Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, the list goes on ... this was supposed to be the year they broke out, or at least that one of them would. And while Elliott and Erik Jones recorded their first career wins, that’s two of 24. Not exactly overwhelming, but still, something we keep going back to.

But Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, there was no Big 3 at the finish. No young guns, either.

And you know what?

It was still a hell of a good race.

Why? Because it was 500 laps of chaos. Well, more like 487, but still. You had (and this isn’t even a full list): Kyle Busch oddly wrecking on the second lap before most fans had even adjusted their personal radios; Harvick biting at Blaney’s rear at the end of Stage 1; Joey Logano and Elliott doing their best imitation of that same battle as Stage 2 finished; Kyle Busch wrecking Truex with about 75 to go, and the subsequent Twitter rant from Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex; Kyle Busch himself spinning out with less than 20 to go; and finally, Kurt Busch jumping way past Kyle Larson the last 13 laps en route to victory.

Phew.

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Kyle Busch failed to finish Saturday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway after he was involved in a series of wrecks. Wade Payne AP

Now, yes, were the Big 3 involved Saturday night? Of course — they’re three of the best drivers on the circuit, and it would be ludicrous to pretend otherwise.

But even with none of them in contention at the end (Truex and Kyle Busch didn’t finish, Harvick finished 10th), it was an objectively good race. Same goes for the absence of young guns.

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There was still passing for the lead, still wrecks and tightly-contested stage wins. There was booing, and there was drama, and there was emotion — frustration, joy, or whatever else — for the entire three hours the race took to run.

In fact, the least exciting part of the race was really the end. Kurt Busch jumped ahead of Clint Bowyer and then Larson on back-to-back restarts, and for the last 10 laps — normally the only part of a race a fan needs to see — there was finally serenity.

As for the winner, Kurt Busch, it’s his first trip to Victory Lane since last season’s Daytona 500. Busch was already a near-playoff lock, but that’s no substitute for a trophy — this is his sixth from Bristol alone — and a champagne shower in Victory Lane.

“We’ve been the most consistent team this year that hasn’t won,” Busch said. “It just matters to win. It’s all about winning. I’m glad we did.”

The win bumps the elder Busch, he still without a Cup Series ride for next season, into fourth in the points standings. Right behind... well, you already know who.

But as the Cup Series circuit shifts to playoff mode at the end of this month, Bristol offered a key reminder of one thing: We don’t have to prescribe to the same ol’ storylines for it to be a good race.

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Saturday’s win at Bristol Motor Speedway bumps Kurt Busch into fourth in the Cup Series points standings. Above, Busch (41) drives below Clint Bowyer Jr. during Saturday’s race. Wade Payne AP

No offense to Kurt Busch, but a 40-year-old who hasn’t been really competitive in a decade? That’s not exactly a storyline you’d think would jump off the page.

And yet, Saturday it did.

Funny how we lean so hard into those same storylines, we forget what we’re all here for to start with — the racing.

And Saturday night, boy was it good: good racing, but also a good reminder.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

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