Reigning champion Kyle Busch eliminated in Round of 12

Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Reigning champion Kyle Busch eliminated in Round of 12

NASCAR

Reigning champion Kyle Busch eliminated in Round of 12

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Kyle Busch will not defend his NASCAR Cup Series championship after being eliminated from playoff contention Sunday afternoon.

The Bank of America 400 unfolded like much of Busch’s season – highs and lows and a disappointing end. Busch needed to win the race to advance, failing to gain ground in the points after the first two stages. He rebounded from a flat tire in the final two laps of the first stage and wound up in the race lead when crew chief Adam Stevens kept him on track under caution with 23 laps to go.

Busch lost the lead to teammate Erik Jones with 19 laps to go, and then had to pit for fuel three laps from the finish. Busch wound up with a 30th-place result.

“No, I did not (think he had a car good enough to win the race when staying out),” said Busch. “I just knew we were trying something, anything. Some of the other guys that stayed out behind me – there was only four or five of them – I thought maybe if there was 10 or 12 of them, we might have a better shot at having an opportunity to stay enough out front.

“But even on the restart, on the fire off, trying to get everything warmed up, ready to go, I didn’t have anything to be able to drive away and even had my teammate (Jones) pass me. So, obviously, I didn’t have anything for nobody today.”

On the flat left front tire that he wound up with two laps from the end of the second stage, Busch thinks it happened following contact from Clint Bowyer. Busch pitted under the green flag, and while pit road was closed, so while he lost his track position, he remained on the lead lap.

“I assume it was just the tailpipes from the 14 car coming blasting on by and not leaving any room for three-wide,” said Busch. “Just ripped the tire, I’m sure.”

The two-time champion was below the cutline throughout the second round. Busch fell further behind when his brother Kurt Busch went from below the cutline to automatically advancing with his Las Vegas win. Busch entered the Roval 21 points out of a transfer spot.

It is the second time in his career Busch has been eliminated in the Round of 12, the first being the year the elimination format began in 2014. The last five years, Busch had been one of the title contenders in the championship race.

However, this year has been unusual and frustrating for Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team. Busch led 254 laps in the regular-season and earned a slim three playoff points.

Busch’s worst result was seventh in the first round, but his lack of a win has been a hindrance. Bristol looked to be his best chance to break the winless drought that dates back to Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2019 as he led 159 laps, but was overtaken late by Kevin Harvick.

Without a championship to race for, Busch reiterated the importance of winning a race. He’s won at least one race every year since joining the Cup Series full-time in 2005.

“It’s very important, and you go out there and try each and every week,” said Busch. “Yeah, there’s certainly been times this year where I’ve thought, ‘Man, there’s something wrong with me, I’m not doing it right. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Or, the car’s not quite right, or I’m not trusting what the car is really doing and telling me, so I should just drive it harder. Then I’m crashed.

“I don’t know what to think. But certainly, it would be nice to score a win and to have won this year, that would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone. But to answer your other question about how we’ve been running, do we even have a shot to win? I don’t think we even have a shot.”

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