Kyle Busch wins seventh career Nationwide race at Bristol, record 16th triumph there overall

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Its official name is Bristol Motor Speedway, but the .533-mile bullring might as well be renamed Busch Motor Speedway going forward.

In his 20th NASCAR Nationwide Series start at BMS, Kyle Busch earned his seventh win – his third in a row and sixth in his last eight NNS starts there – in Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.

Busch now has a record 16 career wins at Bristol across all three of NASCAR’s major series — Nationwide (seven wins), Sprint Cup (five) and Camping World Trucks (four) — the most total race wins by a driver at a single track in NASCAR history.

Busch led 119 laps and easily cruised to victory, finishing 1.441 seconds ahead of runnerup Kyle Larson.

Busch pulled away from the pack following the final restart with nine laps remaining in the event, but no one could mount a serious challenge as each lap clicked off.

“We really had to change our car a lot today,” Busch said. “This car was awesome. A couple of those guys got close. (Matt) Kenseth was really fast, lightning fast much of the day, and I was having a hard time catching him. I just bided my time a little bit better than he did, and he got stuck.

“It’s always fun to win at Bristol. It doesn’t matter whether they’re cheering or booing. Hopefully, we can sweep the weekend. … What we accomplished today was pretty good.”

Only three drivers led the race: Matt Kenseth led the most (179), Busch (119) and Larson (two).

But seven Nationwide wins is only scratching the surface of just how dominant the younger Busch brother continues to be at Bristol, without question his most successful race track across all three of NASCAR’s professional touring series. In addition to his seven NNS wins, he also has 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes at Bristol in NASCAR’s junior circuit.

In the Camping World Trucks Series, Busch has eight starts, four wins, five top-5 and six top-10 finishes at Bristol.

And come Sunday in the weekend’s main event, the Food City 500, Busch will be going for his sixth Sprint Cup win in 19 starts. He also has eight top-five and 12 top-10 Cup finishes in NASCAR’s premier series at Bristol.

Kevin Harvick finished third in Saturday’s race, followed by Ryan Blaney and Kenseth. Sixth through 10th were Ty Dillon, Brendon Gaughan, Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith.

Smith barely held on to his points lead in the NNS standings. He leads Trevor Bayne by one point, is eight points ahead of Ty Dillon, 13 points in front of Chase Elliott and 16 points ahead of Elliott Sadler.

Also of note in Saturday’s race, rookie Cale Conley finished an impressive 11th in his first career NNS start.

Drivers Ryan Reed and 18-year-old Ruben Garcia Jr. (making his second career NNS start), wrecked out in the latter stages of the race.

Here’s the finishing order in Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway:

1 Kyle Busch
2 Kyle Larson
3 Kevin Harvick
4 Ryan Blaney
5 Matt Kenseth
6 Ty Dillon
7 Brendan Gaughan
8 Trevor Bayne
9 Chase Elliott
10 Regan Smith
11 Cale Conley
12 Landon Cassill
13 James Buescher
14 Brian Scott
15 Dylan Kwasniewski
16 Chris Buescher
17 Elliott Sadler
18 Jeremy Clements
19 Joe Nemechek
20 Ryan Sieg
21 Timmy Hill
22 Will Kimmel III
23 Jamie Dick
24 Dakoda Armstrong
25 Mike Wallace
26 Mike Bliss
27 Eric McClure
28 Derrike Cope
29 Joey Gase
30 Josh Wise
31 Ryan Reed
32 Jeffrey Earnhardt
33 Ruben Garcia Jr.
34 Kevin Lepage
35 Kelly Admiraal
36 Tanner Berryhill
37 Matt Carter
38 Carl Long
39 Matt DiBenedetto
40 Blake Koch

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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”