BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch entered Saturday’s elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway two points below the cutline, but in a manageable position. A chance for Busch to point his way in seemed like a welcomed sight after finishes of 30th and 26th to open the Round of 16.
But for the second time in three weeks, Busch’s engine unexplainably expired, resulting in a 34th-place finish and an early exit from the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
“It just goes with our year. I don’t even know what to say,” Busch told USA Network. “I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low — down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through.
“Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you. I really feel bad for all of Rowdy Nation, everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Rowdy Energy, all of the partners that get us going every week. This is not our normal.”
Busch, who announced he will leave Joe Gibbs Racing for Richard Childress Racing in 2023, qualified for Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race in 21st but wasted no time driving through the field. He earned eight points in Stage 1 by finishing third and earned six more by finishing fifth in Stage 2.
Busch was nine points above the cutline after Stage 2 and in a position to transfer. But just 20 laps into Stage 3, smoke began billowing out both sides of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. He pulled off the track, went behind the wall and climbed out. His chances of winning a championship in his final season with JGR were over.
Busch had a forgettable season, but it had championship potential. He won the Bristol dirt race in the spring and had 13 top-10 finishes. After finishing second at Gateway in June, Busch was second in driver’s points.
But, his successes got dampened by his stretch of bad luck over the summer. He has finished 20th or worse in 10 of the last 14 races with just two top-10s. Busch and his Toyota teammates struggled with road course speed, resulting in finishes of 29th or worse at Sonoma, Road America and Watkins Glen. At Pocono in July, Busch finished second before a disqualification relegated him to 36th.
And now two engine failures, both seemingly out of his control, resulted in a Round of 16 departure for the first time in his career.
Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick also failed to advance.
Before making the jump to RCR, Busch still has seven races remaining, starting next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch has four wins at Texas, including the 2020 fall race.
The AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 25 (USA Network).