NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars dominated the Drive to End Diabetes 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway on Saturday. In the end, the same drivers finished first and second as in the March 2013 race at the track, with Kyle Busch taking his third-straight Nationwide win at Bristol and Kyle Larson finishing second for the second year in a row. For Busch, it was his seventh-career Bristol Nationwide win and his 16th across all three of NASCAR's national divisions at the track. The win was a fourth-straight Bristol victory for crew chief Adam Stevens.
In victory lane, Busch credited Stevens for the win.
"The biggest thing was just how much the track changed from practice," Busch said. "It was entirely different, not even close. We really had to change our car a lot today. Adam made some really good calls on the pit box and tried to get me freed up and trying to get me to where I could roll and make some speed up."
Larson started on the pole and led the first two laps before Busch took the lead on lap three. Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick also got by Larson in the opening laps and Busch, Kenseth and Harvick occupied the top-three positions in the running order for most of the remainder of the race. Kenseth led the way for the trio, and everyone else for that matter, for more than half of the 300-lap distance, leading a race-high 178 laps. The only other two drivers to lead the race were Larson, with two laps led, and Busch, who led the other 120.
A lack of cautions in the first third of the race and the blistering pace set by Kenseth resulted in only six cars being on the lead lap by the time the second yellow flag waved on lap 95. The only Nationwide Series regulars joining Kenseth, Busch, Harvick and Larson on the lead lap were Regan Smith and Brendan Gaughan. But when the caution came out again on lap 135, Chase Elliott got the free pass and several other drivers, including Ty Dillon, Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap.
Busch retook the lead from Kenseth just before a caution with 87 laps remaining and held the lead the remainder of the race distance. As Busch maintained the lead, and therefore, the ability to choose the outside line for the restarts that followed, Kenseth and Harvick kept getting caught in the slower inside line, resulting in lost positions late in the race.
"I felt like we were actually better than both of them (Busch and Larson) at the end," Harvick said.
Larson was able to take advantage of the situation, going from fourth to second on the final restart of the race with nine laps to go. Harvick slid back as far as fifth late in the race but was able to recover to finish third. Kenseth wound up fifth, as he was also passed by Blaney in the final laps. In the end, Kenseth attributed losing the lead to Busch to lapped traffic and losing additional spots late to being in the wrong line on restarts.
"We had a good car early in the whole race and just kind of got picked in lap traffic," Kenseth said. "I was being as aggressive as I could without wrecking. Kyle got by me in lapped traffic and that was kind of the difference, honestly. After that, we had four or five restarts or something; we were on the bottom in every one. We would lose two or three spots like everybody would that started on the bottom and just could never get it back."
With Busch, Larson, Harvick and Kenseth being Sprint Cup regulars and Blaney's main focus being the Camping World Truck Series, Dillon was the highest-finishing Nationwide championship-eligible driver in sixth. Gaughan finished seventh, Trevor Bayne eighth, Elliott ninth and Smith rounded out the top-10.
"It's another top-10, here," Bayne, a Knoxville, Ten., native, said. "It's not what you want; you want to be running top-five and contending for wins, but in the meantime, we're still gaining on the points leader."