Kyle Busch back-doors Bristol victory, but shows team's growth on road to win No. 60

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — NASCAR‘s only active multi-time champion just got better.

Kyle Busch won Sunday‘s Cup Series dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway, giving him 60 career victories at the sport‘s top level. The two-time titleholder remains ninth on the all-time wins list but is now 16 away from seven-time champ Dale Earnhardt. The next-closest competitor is Kevin Harvick with 58.

RELATED: All of Kyle Busch’s wins, 1 to 60 | Cup Series standings

“Great,” Busch said. “Elaborate on that, OK?

“To me, it‘s a long time, 18 years. The biggest thing to me is just having that opportunity and being thankful for my chances with Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe (Gibbs), Coy (Gibbs), everybody at M&M‘s, Interstate Batteries. Having my back over this long a time, keeping me in the seat.”

Busch joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 after three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports. He started full-time racing at the Cup Series level at the age of 20, scoring his first win at 21 that same year on Sept. 4, 2005 at Auto Club Speedway. The now 36-year-old has won at least one race every season since then.

Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

That‘s 18 consecutive seasons with a win, tying Richard Petty for the longest streak in league history. Not counting this year since the schedule is ongoing, there have only been five seasons with only one victory. His personal-best mark has been eight — 2008 and 2018. His championship years — 2015 and 2019 — saw five each.

“A lot of different people to work with, a lot of different cars we‘ve gone through, a lot of things that we have done and won races in those years,” Busch said.

The 2022 slate will be Busch‘s last with M&M‘s as a primary sponsor, it was announced in December 2021. Mars has supported NASCAR since 1998.

Team owner Joe Gibbs was not made available during Busch‘s post-race press conference, but co-owner Coy Gibbs was present.

“So, I don‘t deal with the sponsorship stuff directly,” Coy said. “I kind of stick on the competition side. But we‘ve got a couple people we‘re talking to, so we‘re excited about that, excited about the leads. I think anytime you win, it helps.”

The victory signified Busch‘s ninth at Bristol, his first on the dirt track. He finished 17th in the 2021 inaugural Bristol Dirt Race.

Admittedly, Busch got lucky Sunday. Chase Briscoe wrecked race leader Tyler Reddick on the last lap, trying to steal the front spot. The two went spinning, and Busch, who was running third, cruised on by for the checkered flag.

MORE: Watch frantic final lap | At-track photos: Bristol

Regardless, a win is a win. And the No. 18 Toyota is locked into the NASCAR Playoffs — a relief as the Next Gen car continues to be an equalizer in the garage. There has only been one repeat winner (William Byron) in 2022, so that‘s eight of the 16 postseason berths sealed.

“It‘s a work in progress, like I‘m sure every team is,” crew chief Ben Beshore said. “The learning curve is really steep right now eight or nine races into the season. I‘m sure in another eight or nine, we‘ll look back on what we did this weekend and (ask), ‘Why did we do that?‘ Everyone is learning so fast right now and developing what they think is the best package for each weekend.

“Kyle has been really good, giving us good feedback, really working on our cars, trying to get them better every week.”

Through the nine races so far, Busch now has just two top-five and six top-10 results. He‘s averaging a 12.1 finish. His best showing before Sunday was fourth place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in March.

Busch is tied for fifth with 273 points — 51 off leader Chase Elliott — and for 11th in stage points with 38 (no wins). In both cases, Alex Bowman matches his tallies.

“With how struggle-some I feel like our year has been this year, did we deserve this?” Busch said. “Yeah, I mean, we ran up front all night, we were in contention. That was great. I‘ll take that.

“We got a lot of work to do to win more races and be in contention each and every week. I say all this because yes, the 18 is important, but I feel like I‘m in the prime of my career and I would love to be running up front an dominating and winning races and contending for championships. That‘s our ultimate goal.”