BRISTOL, Tenn — In a race marred with mechanical problems, Kyle Busch wasn’t sparred. The 8-time Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway winner saw his race and championship hopes go up in smoke on Lap 269 when the engine on his No. 18 blew.
That was 2 mechanical failures in the 3 races in the opening round which as a result of that bad luck, Busch was eliminated for the first time ever in the first round.
Busch’s engine failed him while leading late in the Southern 500. He’d finish 30th as a result. Last week in Kansas, he had troubles and wound up 26th. Now, he finished 32nd in the Bass Pro Shops Night race for his 3rd sub 30th place finish in the last 5 weeks.
“This goes with our year,” a dejected Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. 2 engine failures in 3 weeks will do it to you.
“This is not our normal.”
Busch I feel like felt like he’d never be put in a position to where he’d have to be searching for a new place to race in 2023. While JGR was searching for funding, he never thought the unexpected would occur.
He wasn’t driving like it at least. He had a stretch in late spring and early summer with 8 top 10 finishes in a 9 race stretch including 5 top 3’s in a span of 7 races.
In the 14 races since?
0 top 5’s. 2 top 10’s. Half of the races he finished 29th or worse.
He admitted that he felt the strain once he realized it was realistic that he’d have to move on from JGR. It caused a lot of sleepless nights in his household.
Now he has those plans solidified.
After a week that saw him announced his 2023 plans, Busch was still hoping to go out his tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing a champion. 56 of his 60 NASCAR Cup Series victories came with JGR and Toyota including both of his championships (2015, 2019) as well. He gave Toyota their first win in NASCAR’s premiere series. Their first championship too.
Now, his focus will turn to Chevrolet now as you have to think he’s just going to ride out the 2022 season with his eye to the future.
Crazy enough, Kevin Harvick was also eliminated on Saturday night too. Like Busch, it was the first time he too was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Harvick was dejected in a sense that the race was falling into his lap. He had a strong car but could never get to the front. After Brad Keselowski had a tire go down while leading, then Christopher Bell the same, a caution came out which put Harvick up to 2nd.
With the money stop coming, he was back in the fight.
That’s where it all changed again. A stop to where they didn’t get his left front tire on before he left and having to back up and back into his pit stall, his night was ruined. He’d finish 10th in a race he had to win.
“It was pretty tough. We pitted in front of the 17, so just kind of the way the year has gone,” Harvick said. “Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass. Parted it way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”
Harvick’s car caught on fire in the Southern 500 and would finish 33rd. He crashed in Kansas and was 36th. 3 of his last 4 finishes have been 20th or worse.
What’s shocking by this is the fact that the duo have combined to have taken 3 of the 8 championships during this new era (2014-present) of racing. On top of that, each are a pair of 60 race winners in the Cup Series at that.
At one point not so very long ago, Harvick, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were shoo-ins for Championship 4’s. All 3 made the final round in 2015, 2017, 2018 and again in 2019. No one has as many Championship 4 appearances as these three with each of them having 5 a piece.
All are now eliminated by the end of the first round.
Harvick won 9 times in 2020. He went winless until this past August. Busch went winless until the 3rd to last race of the 2020 season. He won twice last year and picked up a fluke Bristol win this past April when the top 2 drivers knocked each other out in going for the win on the final lap in the final set of corners. Busch led just the straightaway all race. If that doesn’t happen, he’d not even be in the playoffs right now either.
Since this race ended in 2020, Harvick and Busch have a combined 6 wins.