BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch skipped watching Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn’t seem to need a preview of how Bristol Motor Speedway will race Sunday.
Echoing a refrain sounded by several drivers after the March 24 race at Martinsville Speedway, Busch is anticipating the high downforce package to add an aerodynamic element to short-track racing in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I think you’re going to run or try to run wherever you can where the guy in front of you ain’t because you certainly can’t follow,” Busch said, adding a touch of sarcasm. “(Cars are) plowing tight. Aerotight at Bristol. At a short track. Fantastic. Can’t wait.”
While a major factor at the 1.5-mile speedways that bring higher speeds, aerodynamics rarely come into play on shorter tracks where speeds are much lower.
But after Martinsville, Denny Hamlin said setting up passes was more difficult because the wake was so unstable for the trailing car.
Busch is expecting similar conditions over 500 laps Sunday at Bristol’s 0.533-mile oval, which has much higher banking than Martinsville.
Is it related to the high downforce?
“Yep,” he said. “That’s exactly what we told everybody.”
So how does he think the race will unfold Sunday?
“Drive as hard as you can until you blow a right front, and hopefully you’re not the first one that blows it, so then there’s a caution, you come in, you make spots on pit road,” Busch said.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota ranked fifth on the speed chart during final practice Saturday. Joey Logano was fastest at 128.830 mph and is expecting his No. 22 Ford will need to be “versatile” to be successful Sunday.
“That’s what Bristol is all about these days is being able to have a car where you can run up top when you have to, run the bottom when you have to and run everywhere in between when you’re in traffic,” Logano said. “Those are the cars that usually succeed in the race, so I feel like I have that in my car right now.”
Track workers will apply traction compound after Saturday’s Xfinity race to ensure there’s a bottom groove Sunday. Jimmie Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet was second fastest in practice, said warmer temperatures Sunday could make the traction compound more effective, but it likely will fade over the race’s second half.
Logano anticipates it’ll be harder to drive away than at Martinsville (where winner Brad Keselowski led 445 laps), but “if you’re smart about how you’re up front, you can stay up there for a long time if your car is good.
“It’s a little stickier on the bottom still, so that stuff only lasts for a certain period of time before a lot of rubber sticks to it and it kind of gets rough and becomes very challenging to run down there,” Logano said. “I’m sure the bottom is going to be tough on the start of the race until it gets heat and then the bottom is going to roll for a while until it clumps up and then the top is going to start rolling and then the top is going to clump up and then you just have to find a lane that works best for your car.
“That’s what’s fun about Bristol. I love it. It’s always changing. I’m sure the dirt guys probably love it because the track is always changing.”
As a seven-time winner at Bristol, his winningest track in Cup, Busch also is a big fan of Thunder Valley and is optimistic of his chances Sunday (“I feel like we’re a top four or five car; it’s got good speed.”).
But he won’t have the advantage of preparing with the Xfinity race, which is restricted from Cup drivers because it’s a Dash 4 Cash event. That didn’t exactly make it must-see TV for Busch.
“Nope,” Busch said when asked if he’d watch the race (he rarely does when he isn’t competing). “I don’t give a shit. Hopefully all the fans that have packed this place today, and everybody who is going to turn on a TV and watch because Kyle Busch ain’t in the race will enjoy a great race.”
It sounds as if Busch, who recently crossed 200 career victories, might have an edge and extra motivation for excelling Sunday and inciting his haters again.
“I’m just an unhappy person,” Busch deadpanned. “Clint Bowyer’s told you that.”