The annual night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway has long been a staple on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. In fact, many argue that the annual 500-lap race is quickly becoming a crown jewel race on the calendar. To add to the growing excitement for Bristol’s fall race, Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race will be a part of the Cup Series playoffs for the first time ever.
For one, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), had this race circled on the calendar even before the season as he has at least eight reasons why he’s looking forward to Bristol being part of the 2020 Cup Series playoffs. His eight wins at the “Last Great Colosseum” are the most among active drivers, and only his older brother Kurt is close in the number of wins with six.
Nine Cup Series victories at Bristol would send the younger Busch brother into a tie with some all-time greats of the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace all ended their careers at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile with nine victories. If Busch was to achieve nine Bristol wins, the next milestone would be Darrell Waltrip’s all-time record of 12 wins at the Tennessee short track.
A win Saturday night for the Skittles driver would not only add to his career total at Bristol, but also vault him directly into the Round of 12 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs. Heading into this weekend’s race at the .533-mile concrete oval, Busch sits 18 points above the cutline to advance to the Round of 12, set to start next weekend at Busch’s hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Busch, the two-time and defending Cup Series champion, holds the distinction of being the only driver in NASCAR history to win all three national series races in a single weekend, which he’s done twice at the .533-mile Bristol bullring. He captured the “Bristol Triple” in 2010 and 2017, when he swept NASCAR’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series races. In addition to his eight career Cup Series wins, Busch has notched 13 top-fives and 18 top-10s in 30 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Cup Series win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at Bristol than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch has seemed to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there as the new racing grooves there have better suited Busch’s driving style over the past several seasons.
This weekend, Busch will have Operation Gratitude on the back of his No. 18 Skittles Toyota at Bristol. Every year, Operation Gratitude sends 300,000-plus individually addressed care packages to soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen deployed overseas, to their children left behind, and to first responders, new recruits, veterans, wounded heroes, and their caregivers. Each package contains snacks, hygiene products, entertainment, and handmade items, as well as personal letters of support.
So, as Busch and the Skittles team head to Bristol this weekend, a ninth victory there would not only put him alongside NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt, Yarborough, and Wallace, but also send him to the next round of the playoffs so he can take another step toward successfully defending his 2019 Cup Series championship.