16 drivers entered this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, 12 continued on last Saturday night at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. 4 of the 16 are eliminated. So how do these 4 handle the final 7 races of the season?
It’s a tricky situation. In a postseason to where non playoff drivers are undefefeated do the 4 already eliminated start winning again?
For Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, it’s uncharted territory that they find themselves in. For the first time in their careers, both were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The question now is, how engaged will they be moving forward?
For two drivers that are used to racing for championships at this point of the season, how do they operate with such a long runway now to where they’re not?
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.
So how do you race now knowing that it’s really all for not?
Plus, Busch can now turn his focus on shoring up his 2023 plans for his Truck Series team and further move closer to his change to RCR. He’s finished outside the top 30 in 3 of 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, you have to think that his focus will turn to Chevrolet with him likely just wanting to ride out the 2022 season with his eye to the future.
For Harvick, you have to wonder the same about him too.
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. How much does he care moving forward?
Each are great at Texas but I wonder how well they truly will do on Sunday.
“We wouldn’t do anything different. We do that every week,” Harvick said.
What about for the RCR duo? Austin Dillon knows his future is secured and he is like Harvick and says that they’ll go out and try to win a race before the end of the year is up.
“We’ll just try to win a race before the year’s over,” he says.
What about for Tyler Reddick? He’s in a weird position. He knows he’s back with RCR for next year, or is he?
“He said he’s got a plan, and he’s got details for me, so we’ll just see what they are when it’s time to talk,” Reddick said about his conversation with Richard Childress last week.
Childress wasn’t fond of how Reddick handled his departure with the team. He felt like he was owed more than an hour’s notice. So that’s what Childress did to Reddick in return when he gave him an hours notice that Busch will be taking over the 8 car next year and Reddick will move to a 3rd team.
“It wasn’t tense,” Reddick said of that conversation. “He was just filling me in on what was going on. I understand because I am moving on. All good.
“I looked at it from the business point of view, and I feel like how they’re approaching it with Kyle coming in and being with the 8 team. They’re looking ahead to the future and what’s going to be best for them in the long term.
“I’m sure how people could think it’s personal, but I’m not looking at it that way.”
It could be a distraction, but Reddick is handling it all with ease. The question mounts is if 23XI Racing will just work out a deal with RCR to get him early.
“One thing we’ve seen over the last couple of months is Tyler Reddick has continued to be a professional,” Denny Hamlin said. “He’s given his team 110 percent. No matter what the circumstances getting thrown at him, I’m very certain that he’s going to maintain that level of professionalism and take it in stride.”
Hamlin isn’t going to rush Kurt Busch’s decision along because if Busch doesn’t decide to come back, then a seat in theory would be open in 2023.
It doesn’t make much sense for RCR to build a 3rd team from scratch because it will cost likely over $20-million in terms of acquiring a charter, hiring personnel and doing it right. Why pay that much money plus pay Busch to come over for a 2nd car? Do they truly want to grow back to a 3 car team again?
It may be cheaper to buy him out.
23XI Racing does however eventually want to strive to be a 3 car team and said that if Busch is back for not only 2023 but for 2024 too, then they’d get a 3rd charter for Reddick. It’s late in game now so in their sense, if Busch doesn’t return next year and RCR doesn’t buyout Reddick, then John Hunter Nemechek could drive the 45 and the team has a year before Reddick joins.
So what does Reddick do?
That’s why his final 7 races could have a distraction surrounding him. For Busch, he has 2 engine problems in 3 weeks and leaving Toyota at the end of the season. How much support does he truly receive?
Harvick and Busch aren’t used to be in this position while Dillon just wants to win.