BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch backed into the record book by stealing a win at dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway.
That’s what he’d say if it had been anyone else, right?
Busch won his first race of the season Sunday night by sliding past the leaders as Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe spun racing for the win. Busch tied Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s NASCAR record for victories in consecutive years at 18.
But his tune was far different at Bristol than it was six weeks ago when Alex Bowman won at Las Vegas and an irate Busch complained that Bowman is “the same (expletive) guy who backs into every (expletive) win that he ever (expletive) gets.”
When it was Busch’s turn to inherit a win, he had no problem collecting the checkered flag.
“We got one, you know?” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter how you get them, it’s all about getting them.”
Later, he acknowledged that he did “back into one” but said it felt good.
Reddick was chasing the first Cup win of his career, led 99 of the 250 laps, and controlled the race from the final restart with 24 laps remaining. Lapped traffic gave Briscoe a shot and Briscoe made his move in the third turn as he tried to slide inside past Reddick.
The move backfired and both cars spun out of control and Busch, who was running third, simply skirted through for his first win.
Busch won for the ninth time in Cup at Bristol — first time in two dirt races — and was booed by the smattering of fans who waited out two rain delays that pushed the first race on Easter Sunday since 1989 to nearly four hours.
“I mean, man, I feel like Dale Earnhardt Sr. right now. This is awesome. I didn’t do anything,” Busch said of the 1999 race in which Earnhardt was booed for bumping Terry Labonte out of the way for the win.
Reddick finished second and faulted himself for not holding off Briscoe. Briscoe went from two turns away from the win to 22nd and immediately found Reddick on pit road to apologize.
“I was going to spin out, I think, either way,” Briscoe said. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to let you know. I am sorry. I wish you would have won.”
Reddick was understanding and admitted he should have been more defensive.
“I don’t think I did everything right. Briscoe was able to run me back down there,” Reddick said. “I should have done a little bit better job of just, I don’t know, I shouldn’t have let him get that close. He ran me back down. Worked really hard to do that.
“I mean, you’re racing on dirt, going for the move on the final corner. It’s everything that as a driver you hope to battle for in his situation. Made it really exciting for the fans. I should have done a better job and pulled away so he wasn’t in range to try to make that move.”
Rain had stopped the race for a second time moments before the race was supposed to go green with 30 laps remaining.
“It’s slimy,” Busch, who was running second as the rain slicked the track, said of the conditions.
From inside his cockpit, Reddick knew he had his work cut out for him if he was to win.
“One of the best in stock car racing, Kyle Busch, he’s definitely going to make me earn it,” Reddick said from inside his Chevrolet.
But Briscoe got past Busch when the rain finally stopped and it was Briscoe who wrecked Reddick’s trip to victory lane.
The race was NASCAR’s second attempt at running a Cup race on dirt and it turned into a wet and muddy mystery when rain paused the racing and most of the drivers seemed clueless about the rules.
Bristol dumped more than 2,300 truckloads of Tennessee red clay onto its beloved concrete 0.533-mile bullring to help NASCAR add variety to the schedule at a time the stock car series is experimenting with radical changes. Fox Sports then convinced NASCAR to take the prime-time television slot on Easter Sunday, the first time since NASCAR’s 1949 inception the Cup Series deliberately chose the date.
NASCAR had held 10 previous Cup races on Easter Sunday in its history, but all because of weather-related rescheduling. This purposeful event was designed to dominate a television audience gathered together as a family the same way the NFL and NBA do on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What the new audience saw was a mid-race mass of confusion because few drivers seemed to understand the rules during the first stoppage. Some drivers pitted — presumably because their teams knew scoring was halted under the red flag and wouldn’t resume until the race went green.
Busch was among many drivers who did not pit — perhaps because they assumed they’d move up in the running order. So it was Busch who had his car out front when NASCAR halted all activity, but Briscoe, who had pitted, was scored as the leader.
Denny Hamlin, who had already been eliminated from the race, was watching on Fox Sports and saw what he claimed was a rules explanation that lasted longer than a minute.
“What’s wrong with this picture,” Hamlin wrote on Twitter. “As a fan sitting on my ass right now watching, it’s hard to take this seriously.”
Carson Hocevar, the runner-up in Saturday night’s Truck Series race, posted a meme th at intimated NASCAR was making up the rules as it went along. In actuality, NASCAR was clear in its pre-race rules video that scoring would be stopped at the end of the stage and not resume until the race went green again.
The confusion up and down pit road indicated few had a clear grasp of the procedures, which at Bristol differed from all other Cup races. NASCAR held a mandatory pre-race driver meeting prior to the pandemic in which rules were discussed; it has since been replaced by a video.
The race did resume — with Briscoe as the leader — with the entire third stage still remaining.
DALE JR. TO THE FOX BOOTH
NASCAR Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be in the rotating guest in the Fox Sports booth next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Earnhardt will join Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer on Sunday. He has a record His record six wins at Talladega and is the 15-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award.
“Calling a race from Talladega is an incredibly fun experience,” Earnhardt said in a statement issued by Fox Sports. “You absolutely have to be on your toes at all times. It doesn’t take much for all hell to break loose.”
Fox Sports and NBC Sports split NASCAR’s 38-race schedule. Neither network had an explanation for the sharing next week of Earnhardt. Fox Sports all season has used a different guest analyst as the replacement for Jeff Gordon, who returned to a competition role at Hendrick Motorsports this season and left the network with a two-man booth.
NASCAR races next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, where Brad Keselowski is he defending race winner and Bubba Wallace in October earned his first career victory.