Kyle Busch was trying to become just the 11th repeat NASCAR Cup Series champion. Unfortunately, the warning shot that he issued after the final race of the first round that he would get eliminated from championship contention in the Round of 12 rang true. Busch, finished 18th in Sunday’s race and becomes the first repeat champion eliminated before the Round of 8 in the six year history of this new format.
The 10 previous repeat champions in back-to-back years were Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly. The last time that this happened other than Johnson’s five year reign between 2006 and 2010 was Jeff Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. That’s only happened just three times in the last 31 years and will extend to 32 years with Busch now not making the Championship 4 after five straight years of a final round appearance.
Busch, hasn’t won a race all year anyways and despite finally finding some speed again, the lack of an insurance policy (playoff points) caught up to him. He had one stage win all regular season, so between that and his two bonus points for finishing in the top 10 of the regular season points standings, netted him three of them for the postseason.
That wasn’t enough for him to advance past the second round despite Busch finishing in the top seven in five of the six races run this postseason.
“It’s just been the year,” Busch said after his playoff exit. “Nothing has played out and been on our side. It’s just been unfortunate circumstances, a lot of bad luck. These guys on this team never give up and they fight all year long, every race and every lap.
“A terrible year for me. As other sports greats could say there are many other drivers that would love to have a year that we’re having.
“But man, it’s just frustrating to know how good we are and what we’re capable of and being champions from last year to not come out here and succeed and be able to win.”
His race on Sunday saw him climb up to the top six in the opening stage, but as the track got drier and more and more drivers pit for slicks, couple that with a caution coming out with three laps left in the opening stage and setting up a one lap shootout, Busch had to pit. He would have been a sitting duck on the wet tries.
So, their plan went from scoring points to just winning. That’s why he pit from a top 10 spot at the end of Stage 2. They wanted to set themselves up for a race win and to advance to the Round of 8 by virtue of that.
Instead, contract with Clint Bowyer on the second to last lap of the stage cost Busch as he had to pit with damage. Busch, wouldn’t give up though and they nearly made a miraculous comeback. He inched closer and closer as the final stage moved on and was fourth when the caution for debris came out on Lap 85. The top three would pit under that caution but Busch remained out to stretch his fuel from Lap 64 on.
It was a gutsy move but didn’t work since the speed just wasn’t there to hold everyone else off. He finished 30th as his winless streak extends to 32. Busch’s three ROVAL finishes have been 32nd, 37th and 30th respectively.
He’s now hoping to end the year with at least a win. He’s won every year since he’s been in Cup, but if he wants to extend a 16 year win streak, a win over the next four weeks is needed.
“Certainly it would be nice to do more, and to have a win for this year would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone,” he said.
“But do we even have a shot to win? I don’t think we have a shot.”
Busch noted that changes could be coming before the end of the year in order to do so.