For the first time in a long time, the old Bristol Motor Speedway was back.
With traction compound added to the bottom lane, and side-by-side racing the order of the day, the .533-mile short track provided a perfect arena for the brightest current and up-and-coming stars to duel for the victory in last Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Kyle Busch put on a masterful show while battling veteran Matt Kenseth and new luminaries Kyle Larson and Erik Jones — all of whom cut their teeth on short tracks before graduating to NASCAR.
Larson, who finished second to sprint car legend Donny Schatz in the Knoxville Nationals two weeks ago continued to sing Busch’s praises on Monday following a gracious tweet on Saturday night.
“I had a lot of fun racing with Kyle; I always do, especially at Bristol,” Larson said after leading 70 laps and finishing ninth. “I feel like Kyle and I have epic battles there all the time we go there in Xfinity or Cup.
“It was cool for him to get the sweep there. I don’t think fans appreciate how tough that is, especially as you get to the Cup series. It’s insane how hard it is to win there. I thought it was really cool.”
Busch was humbled by Larson’s comments and was equally complimentary to the driver of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevy. With Larson at the top of his game right now, some of the best contests--whether on Friday during qualifying or racing alongside each other on Sunday--have occurred between the Kyles this season.
“Larson is obviously arguably one of the most talented guys, as well, too, to hit our sport in a long, long time,” Busch said after the race. “People will continue to say that about him as well. It was fun racing with him earlier in the race. There were times we were racing hard side‑by‑side. I was bottom, he was top. I was top, he was bottom. We were all over the place, right?
“I got a run through (Turns) 1 and 2 on him. We were coming down the backstretch, I got a nose ahead of him. I'm like, 'I'm going to slide him in turn three here.' I'm like, 'You cannot slide a slider, there's no way. You cannot slide Kyle Larson. Never mind, I got to one the bottom.' There's other guys you can do that to, but Larson is not one of those guys. He don't care, he'll throw it in on you. You just know he's giving it everything he's got. I think it's that Sprint car mentality.”
After 20 of the 24 races this season, Larson has been either first or second in the standings. After Busch’s win in Saturday night’s Bristol race, Larson dropped to third in the Monster Energy Cup standings and trails the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing driver by five points with two races remaining before the playoffs.
Team owner Chip Ganassi believes with Larson’s growing confidence in stock cars, he’s not reluctant to offer accolades to his fellow competitors.
“It says a lot about these guys when they start complimenting their peer group,” Ganassi said. “Who’s closer to this sport than those guys are, the drivers? Who’s closer? Nobody, right? They’re the guys out there pushing the pedals, pushing the buttons, turning the wheels.
“That shows you what kind of respect these guys have for each other, and it commands respect when you make comments like that, which I thought was very respectful for Kyle (Larson) to say. I think while Kyle says things like that, he wants to become that. He’s not afraid to admit when he gets schooled or not. Shows you what kind of person he is. He’s not afraid to say that. Some guys would be afraid to say that. But someone who wants to learn and is a true champion is not afraid to say that. He’s confident in his own ability, but he obviously respects Kyle Busch’s ability as well.”