BRISTOL, Tenn. _ Kyle Busch is usually money at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Not this weekend.
Looking for his ninth career Cup win at Bristol, which would have tied him for second most in track history, Busch started 31st, but finished in fourth, unable to keep the lead for more than 30 laps.
Busch finished behind race winner Hamlin, second place Matthew DiBenedetto and Brad Keselowski, who knocked Busch out of first for good by passing him late in the race.
Keselowski actually led 91 laps on six occasions in the race, two more than DeBenedetto, but couldn’t stay with the leaders down the stretch, thanks partially to a damage front end of his car.
“My nose without a hole in it would have been really good, but it was a decent finish for us nonetheless,” Keselowski said. “We led a lot of laps and that’s something to be proud of.
“We seemed to fall off a little bit on the long run and then got in the back of some lap traffic and put a hole in the nose, and that knocked a little bit of speed out of it. That’s all she wrote for us.”
It was a tough weekend for Busch, who was looking for his 10th Xfinity series race at Bristol on Friday, actually winning the initial stage of the Food City 300. Engine trouble forced Busch behind the wall to finish in 29th place, much to the delight of spectators who cheered at the sight of the Busch being out of the race.
“It just all of a sudden started about five, six laps before the stage ended,” said Busch, after Friday’s race. “Coming off the corner I got back into the gas and it broke and just tried to limp it home and that was all she had.
“Tough day for our Juniper Supra. It was really, really fast. It was really, really good. We’re always good here, so it’s nice to have a solid run, but man, these guys have had a bad month and I was hoping to get them a win to get them back in the owner’s deal, but just not meant to be.
“We’ll try again tomorrow.”
It didn’t happen for Busch, who clawed his way to first place by not pitting on the fourth caution of the race 260 laps in. He actually led five different times for a top of 30 laps, but was eventually passed by Keselowki. He never led again.
Busch was hoping to follow the path of Tyler Reddick, who started the Food City 300 in 37th (and last) due to qualifying violations, but still managed to finish on top. Busch didn’t begin that far back, but was unable to make the jump from 31st to finish on top.
Busch still lead the points standings by 39 points over Joey Logano.
Heading into Bristol, there were only three races left until the NASCAR playoffs begin, and four drivers were under pressure on Saturday to enhance their chances to get into the top 16.
Both Ryan Newman, who started 15th, and Clint Bowyer, who was 16th, had good runs, with Bowyer placing seventh and Newman in 11th.
Newman remained in 15th, but Bowyer dropped to 17th after Daniel Suarez, who started 18th, moved up two spots with an eighth place finish.
“I feel like that was probably the biggest thing of the day,” said Suarez, who not only finished in the top-10, but also picked some all-important points for finishing second by not pitting on one of the first two 125-lap stages.
“I feel like that was an amazing call from my crew chief Billy Scott and I’m proud of that call. We have to just keep making those decisions.”
Bowyer will go to Darlington in two weeks needing a good run with just two races left to qualify for playoff competition.
“I mean, all in all, it was a good weekend for us,” Bowyer said. “It was kind of a rebound weekend and what we needed, but you can’t just expect those guys to lay over for you.
“We did all we could do. I was hoping to be a top-5 car and when you’re a top-5 car here you’ve got a chance to win, but we were just a beat off of that all night.”
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who was 17th, dropped 26 points behind Bowyer with a 19th place finish. Johnson is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first since the postseason was established in 2004.
I’ve got one more shot. I don’t know, it’s so hard to predict,” said Johnson, who has had success at both Darlington and Brickyard, the final two races in NASCAR’s regular season. “These are two great tracks for me, two places that I love. We’ll see what happens.”
Kevin Harvick has no worries about the playoffs, but had a difficult Saturday night, completing just 244 laps before the transmission went out on his car.
Efforts were made, but Harvick was unable to rejoin the race. He finished last, in 39th place.
Daniel Hemric was the highest finishing rookie, placing 12th.
Busch is still fifth all-time in Bristol with eight Cup wins. He needs one more to match Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarbourgh and Rusty Wallace for a tie for second. Darrell Waltrip is the all-time leader with 12.