Kyle Busch Must Finish Strong In Kansas To Advance In The NASCAR Playoffsby Benjamin Sanders October 16, 2017
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Kyle Busch has proven in 2017 to be one of the contenders for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship, but after a miserable race in Charlotte, the NASCAR Playoff favorite needed a strong result at Talladega Superspeedway to save his season. Unfortunately for Busch, he crashed out of the Alabama 500.
Busch was running a conservative race on Sunday afternoon, trying to avoid the chaos that usually occurs on a restrictor-plate track. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota was lucky early in the race when the slowing Chevrolet of NASCAR Playoff contender, Jamie McMurray made a late move to pit road and was turned by Erik Jones and into the path of Jeffrey Earnhardt. Busch narrowly squeaked passed.
The Las Vegas native curtailed his natural aggressive nature, which has made him one of the best drivers at superspeedway racing, despite only triumphing twice at the Cup Series level. In 2008, Busch won the April race at Talladega and the July race at Daytona during his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing.
As he was surging through the pack on Sunday, the dreaded “Big One” occurred on lap 173. Heading into Turn 3, David Ragan and NASCAR Playoff rival Martin Truex Jr. made contact, sending Ragan wildly across the track. Busch had the crash all-but missed until Jimmie Johnson was clipped which sent Busch into the wall, devoid of one of its wheels.
“I had no clue what happened,” Busch said. “I just saw the 38 (David Ragan) get sideways above me and then he came across my back and I missed him and he must have got the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 48 shot up right across in front of us. I never seen him. I wish I would’ve saw him a little bit down there. I could’ve shot to the apron and tried to miss him, but unfortunately, we just got messed up in that deal. I hate it for our situation and what we’ve got going on, that’s not what we needed today, but that’s what we got so we’ll just move on to next week.”
This culminated two awful weeks for Busch, who slapped the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway after getting loose in the VHT compound applied to the track. He was treated after the race beside his stricken vehicle for overheating and high levels of carbon monoxide. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was hoping to build up a substantial cushion at Charlotte to avoid a must-win scenario at Kansas Speedway if he was involved in a wreck or was to blow a motor at Talladega.
“It stinks to give up points, we come in here and thought we had a good shot to run in the top-10 and we did and I threw it away,” Busch said following his disappointing 29th-place finish in Charlotte.
Busch is currently ninth in the NASCAR Playoff standings, 53 points out of the lead and seven points behind Jimmie Johnson in eighth place heading into Kansas Speedway for the next cut-off race. Busch finished 27th at Talladega, which is less than ideal, but was he lucky several other NASCAR Playoff teams were involved in the late accidents such as Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney.
“I have no clue,” Busch said. “I don’t know what’s going on around us. I don’t know who all was in it with us. Obviously the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), the 1 (Jamie McMurray) has been out for a while, so we should probably be the last guy through.”
Unfortunately for Busch, Brad Keselowski was triumphant in Alabama, which means one less berth is available to the 10 drivers vying for the six available spots. To add more pressure, Kansas Speedway has not been nice to Busch. Until the fall race of 2014, he had only recorded two top-10 finishes. Over his last five starts, however, he has accrued five top-five finishes, including a win in the 2016 GoBowling.com 400.
Toyota has had the best package on 1.5-mile tracks this season, which will at least give Busch a glimmer of hope. Of the eight races on this length of track, Toyota’s have won five races, all with Truex Jr. It is not impossible for Busch to qualify for the Round of 8, but he is more than likely going to have to win or have a very strong finish to do so. Knowing Busch, he will give it all he has got.
The Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 22.
Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images