Quick takeaways from Bristol: Kurt Busch's start to 2017 is nothing like his start to 2016

From The Marbles
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nascar/sprint/drivers/156/" data-ylk="slk:Kurt Busch">Kurt Busch</a> finished 25th on Sunday and is 18th in the points standings. (Getty)
Kurt Busch finished 25th on Sunday and is 18th in the points standings. (Getty)

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• Kurt Busch and his No. 41 team were a model of excellence in the first half of 2016. This season? Notsomuch.

Yeah, Busch won the Daytona 500, but he’s been pretty awful since. And the bad start continued Monday at Bristol when a spin and wall-contact by Busch brought out the first caution of the race.

Busch was able to continue on and finish 25th, six laps down. He’s now 18th in the points standings — a finish that does nothing to change the stat that Busch is having the worst start to a season for a Daytona 500 champion since 2011.

At this point a year ago Busch was seventh.

Jimmie Johnson’s second win of the season Monday ties him with Brad Keselowski for the most wins in 2017. As Johnson drove to the front over the final stages of Sunday’s race, Keselowski’s car was many laps down.

Keselowski was forced to take his car to the garage in the third stage because of multiple issues. The team was forced to change the power steering pump — a similar problem that quasi-teammate Ryan Blaney experienced — and a rear brake caliper.

As Keselowski was slow on the track before heading to the garage he was just outside the top 20. And, according to Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip, was simply struggling with low air pressures in his tires shortly after a restart.

That clearly was not the case. Keselowski finished 34th, 67 laps down. He’s now 83 points behind points leader Kyle Larson, a deficit that includes a 35-point penalty assessed following an inspection failure at Phoenix. Team Penske’s final appeal on the failure is Wednesday evening. If the appeal is denied, crew chief Paul Wolfe still has two races to serve on his three-race suspension.

[Related: Dale Earnhardt Jr. hits the wall at Bristol]

• Monday’s race at Bristol was great and should quiet all the cries for the “old Bristol” — a one-lane track with the groove on the bottom line — to come back.

The track reapplied the grippy substance to the low line Monday morning before the race. The reapplication meant the lower line provided an alternative groove for drivers and it even became the preferred groove for much of the early part of the race.

But as the race went on, the groove moved up. Jimmie Johnson passed Kevin Harvick for the win by diving below Harvick in the corner, but he pulled away from Harvick by running the high line. Kyle Larson, who dominated the first half of Monday’s race, also preferred the high line. Other drivers, like Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr., tried to use the bottom lane as much as possible.

The existence of two lines gave drivers choices when attempting to either pass the cars running ahead of them or maneuvering around a lapped car. The two grooves provided compelling racing throughout the entirety of the race and forced drivers to adapt constantly throughout the race.

“It was really good today,” Larson said. “It changed a lot. Each run, I thought, was a little bit different line wise. I thought it was good. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I know we were two, three wide for the lead there a couple of times it seemed like.  I don’t know what more fans and other drivers could ask for than that.  I just hope they don’t touch anymore. I think they have got something good with the VHT on the bottom. I just hope they don’t do anything more to mess the top up any.”

Kyle Busch’s recent Bristol history is miserable. Busch crashed out of a third-straight Bristol race after hitting the wall because of a right-front issue.

Goodyear said bead issues on the right front of Busch’s car caused both his tire problems — he hit the wall earlier in the race too — but don’t count on Busch taking to kindly to that explanation. Tires have been Busch’s kryptonite this season.

“I was the fastest one out there those last two runs picking cars off and driving from the back to the front after we lost our track position the first time,” Busch said. “We had our issues and we were trying to march our way back up towards the front and get there and thought we were doing a good job of that and trying to be conservative with the tires because obviously they can’t make it through a full distance for us for some reason. I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s fundamentally wrong what we’re doing, but it seems like all the rest of our five [Joe Gibs Racing] cars are fine.”

Danica Patrick’s day was pretty poor too. She finished 36th after being collected in an accident with David Ragan. But that was the second incident for Patrick on the day, who said her car was horribly loose after she hit the wall while attempting to run the high line around the track.

“I’m just frustrated it was so miserable after I right-reared it,” Patrick said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m catching cars and passing them.’ I was starting to pass lead-lap cars and thought that we were on track to climb our way back up there. With the yellows and the competition cautions and stuff it was maybe going to work out, so I’m mostly just thinking it was kind of just miserable for half the time out there after I right-reared it.

“But it’s not from a lack of effort and it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying after that all happened, it was just kind of one thing after another, including pitting for a second time before the green came back out.  I’m a half-a-lap down and the car is super-loose still, and just kind of a dumb decision with 18 laps to go to come and put tape on it like we did. I know there was a hole in the grille from all the stuff that happened, but it was one thing after another. I had about 30 laps of hope today.”

Patrick is 30th in the standings and has finished inside the top 10 just once — a 17th-place finish at Atlanta.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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