There are few NASCAR drivers better on restarts than Kyle Busch, but Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway it was 20-year-old Ryan Blaney who got the best of the driver nicknamed "Rowdy" at the end of the race.
On the final restart with six laps to go, Blaney jumped from the bottom lane to clear Busch as the two led the field into Turn 1.
Coming to the white flag, Busch was on Blaney’s bumper but couldn’t catch him as the Team Penske driver took the checkered flag to score his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season and the second of his career.
Busch appeared headed for a dominant win before he slowed to take off on the last restart and the field pushed into his back bumper and lifted his back tires off the ground.
"The leader’s at the biggest disadvantage, I think," an obviously frustrated Busch said. "Everybody always tries to hold back to the inside and they try to time a run so that when the leader goes, they have momentum on the leader. I’m trying to maintain regular speed and those guys are falling back, falling back. Then I try to fall back and they fall back more. Now you’re underneath pit-road speed, so you try to maintain it and they got a run on your inside. The 22 (Blaney) was five miles per hour faster than me by the first double yellow (restart) stripe. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to go, but everybody behind me is trying to go because they’re following the 22. I’m trying to wait for him so I can go by the single red (restart) mark on the wall.
"It’s stupid," Busch said of the restart rules. "NASCAR doesn’t police it. So everybody keeps jacking around on it, and one these days I’m going to lock all four (tires) down and stack the whole field up."
Blaney said he was trying to maintain second and was surprised to get such a good restart on Busch. Watching how Busch had handled the restarts earlier in the race, Blaney expected the driver of the No. 54 Toyota would hang back before taking off for the restart.
"You’re always watching the leader and how he restarts," Blaney said. "Kyle was obviously the dominant car, and it looked like he was going to be the restarter late in the race, so I was paying attention to him. He does that a lot. He likes to go fairly late. I learned that in the trucks stuff and racing against him in other Nationwide races, that he goes really late. I was kind of prepared for that and my spotter Joey Meier did a great job conferring with that he was going to go late, so that really did prepare me for that a little better."
Chase Elliott was able to overcome an early brush with the wall to finish the night third, followed by Ty Dillon and Regan Smith.
Following the race, Dillon and Smith had a heated exchange on pit road.
"I just felt for the entire race, there were three or four times tonight he ran me in the fence off of Turn 4," Smith said of Dillon. "Everyone else out there seems to be able give room, and he doesn’t. That last one could have ended our night. I explained that to him. He said he got tight, and that seems to always be the excuse. When you get tight, you usually lift off the gas pedal. Next time I run over him, I’m going to get tight, too."
One of the strongest cars on the night, Kyle Larson saw a solid run came to an end when Blaney got loose underneath him and put the No. 42 Chevrolet into the outside wall. Spinning back down the track, Larson was then hit by his teammate, Dylan Kwasniewski.
"Me and Ryan were just racing really hard for fourth in case the yellow came out," Larson told FOXSports.com. "He moved more into Turn 1 and I guess he got loose underneath me and drove us really hard into the wall. Ruined our day and ruined our teammate’s day."
Driving back to the garage, Larson spun the car in front of Blaney, trying to send a message to the driver who put him in the wall.
After the race, Blaney apologized for his role in Larson’s incident.
"I have to apologize to Kyle Larson," Blaney said in Victory Lane. "I just got loose on the bottom and got into him. I’m really sorry about that. I was trying to pull a slider and got really loose, so sorry about that."
A strong night for title contender Elliott Sadler came to an abrupt halt when the lapped car of Timmy Hill slid down the track and hit the No. 11 Toyota in the right front. Running fourth at the time, Sadler was forced to hit pit road multiple times under caution to fix the damaged car. With an extended caution, Sadler’s team was able to keep him on the lead lap.
That didn’t last, however, as Sadler cut a right-front tire and hit the wall hard on Lap 223 to bring out the caution once again. Despite racing for the free pass, Sadler hit the wall once again with 39 laps to go. He went on to finish in the garage in 29th place and out of the race.
With his finish, Sadler lost 26 points to championship leader Chase Elliott and is now fourth and 42 points out of first. Smith is 13 points behind teammate Elliott, with Dillon third and 30 points out of the lead.