CHARLOTTE, NC ( Associated Press) – Kyle Busch was showered with booze after his surprise victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, a moment that reminded him of the icy reception the late Dale Earnhardt received after his controversial 1999 victory at the track .
But it wasn’t even close to that. Earnhardt pushed leader Terry Labonte out of his way and shooed him away: “I didn’t mean to spin him, I meant to rattle his cage.”
Bush did nothing of the sort. He was comfortably third in the final lap of Sunday night’s race on a dirt-covered track. It was Chase Briscoe who swung into leader Tyler Reddick, and Bush slipped through the smoke for the 60th win of his Cup Series career.
With a checkered flag in his hand, Bush laughed at the crowd’s reaction: “I mean, man, I feel like Dale Earnhardt Sr. right now. That’s awesome. I didn’t do anything.”
Little did the crowd realize that Bush’s ninth Career Cup victory in Bristol had earned him a place in NASCAR’s record books. The win tied Bush with Hall of Famer Richard Petty with at least one win in 18 consecutive seasons.
“For me, that’s a long time, 18 years,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just to have that opportunity and be grateful for my opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Bush thanked longtime sponsor M&M and Interstate Batteries, as well as the leadership at JGR, for starting with Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs, “on my back for this long, keeping me in the seat.” “
Busch ranks ninth on the list of all-time victories, but the Bristol win took him 17 wins away, being the seven-time champion and the first NASCAR Hall of Fame class member along with Petty. Kevin Harvick is the closest to Bush among active drivers with 58 Career Cup wins; Bush, a two-time Cup champion, is the only active driver to have held multiple titles.
Their journey first began with Jack Rausch, whose older brother Kurt Bush was under contract, and Kurt swore to the driver that seven years his junior was going to be better than him. Roush started some truck series to Kyle Busch when he was 16, but was stopped by Hendrick Motorsports by the time he turned 18 and was approved to race at a higher level.
Bush won with Hendricks but was immature and, like his older brother, rather temperamental. It lasted just three seasons before Rick Hendricks turned him loose to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Gibbs nabbed the 22-year-old ahead of the 2008 season, and Bush has undoubtedly put together a Hall of Fame career. He has 325 wins in three NASCAR national series and “retired” from Xfinity Series racing at the end of last season when he crossed the 100-win threshold with 102.
He still races in five of the NASCAR Permit Truck Series events for his Kyle Busch Motorsports team, though he’s been winless through his first three starts this season.
Now 36 and awaiting the birth of their second child – Bush and wife, Samantha, are publicly battling infertility and expecting their first daughter via surrogate – Bush’s focus on winning more Cup titles Is.
He knows he backed the Bristol win, his first in a season with six top-10 finishes through nine races. He doesn’t believe the number 18 Toyota team is where it needs to fight for the title right now.
“We have a lot of work to do to win more races and be in contention every week,” Bush said. “I feel like I’m in the prime of my career and I’d love to go ahead and run and win races and compete for championships. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Next is Talladega Superspeedway, where Bush has just one win in 2008. He’s not relying on past experience in a busy race with NASCAR’s new Next Gen racecar.
“It’s so much crapshoot in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who’s going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from,” Bush said. “You just have to do what you can to get these races in place, and sometimes it’s worth just taking the finish that’s coming at you and moving on and moving on to the next one. “
More Associated Press Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports