Can Kyle Busch get another win at Thunder Valley
Built out of concrete and stone, the Roman Colosseum still stands today in the Italian center of Rome as a major tourist attraction visited annually by millions from around the world.
Completed in 80 AD, the amphitheater once seated 50,000 spectators and was used for gladiator competition and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, and reenactments of famous battles based on Roman mythology. The Roman Colosseum was considered by many as one of the greatest feats of Roman architecture and engineering.
Built in 1961, the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is nestled in the hills of East Tennessee and originally seated around 18,000. Over the years, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have fought their own battles on the half-mile bullring and Bristol quickly gained popularity – and seating capacity – as one of the premier stops on the circuit.
In fact, this weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol will be the 107th Sprint Cup race at a track that now accommodates approximately 160,000 spectators and it, too, features plenty of concrete, albeit as the track’s racing surface.
A large banner at the tunnel entrance to Bristol Motor Speedway reads, “The Last Great Colosseum.” To that end, for fans who visit the facility to watch modern-day gladiators in action, 28-year old Kyle Busch certainly fits the bill as he has put on quite a show there over the years.
The driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has won five Sprint Cup races at Bristol, including four of the last 10 run there. Busch has also recorded eight top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 18 career Sprint Cup starts in “Thunder Valley.”
For the second time in the last three races, the colorful Skittles scheme will adorn the No. 18 Toyota this weekend at Bristol, marking the return of the iconic brand to racing in 2014 after a 15-year absence when driver Ernie Irvan last sported the rainbow colors in 1998.
While he’s on quite a roll at 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 Busch’s record in his last 16 starts at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” has been nothing short of amazing. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Sprint Cup win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, since then, nobody has been better at the concrete short track than Busch. He has added four more wins and a total of eight top-10s in the last 13 NASCAR races contested on the current surface.
Those numbers are certainly impressive, but Busch’s most notable Bristol feat occurred in August 2010, when he became the first driver in history to win all three of NASCAR’s national touring series events in the same weekend. He won the Wednesday-night Camping World Truck Series race, followed by the Friday-night Nationwide Series race, and he topped it off by wheeling his No. 18 Toyota to victory and into the history books in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race. Busch led four times for a race-high 282 laps in the latter event, bringing his weekend total to 514 laps led out of a possible 956.
Busch is looking to get back to Bristol victory lane in 2014. Although he has recorded three top-11 finishes in the last four races there, with his last win coming in August 2011, that four-race winless drought is a long time there by Busch’s lofty standards. So if there’s anyone who is hungry for another armful of trophies from the “Last Great Colosseum” this weekend, it’s the gladiator in the colorful Skittles uniform.