LOUDON, N.H. – With less than a lap left in the second stage of Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch was struggling with the handling of his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, trying to survive the stage and bring his car to pit road for adjustments.
But as Busch rounded Turn 2 at the 1.058-mile track, all he could see was a thick cloud of smoke, reminiscent of the accident scenes in the film “Days of Thunder.”
Ahead of Busch in the running order, in a fight for the 14th position, Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet tapped and turned the No. 4 Ford of 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. Harvick slid sideways, his tires screaming and billowing smoke.
Driving blind, Busch plowed into his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, with Jeffrey Earnhardt following into the melee. The nose of Busch’s Ford crumpled as it slammed into the side of Harvick’s Fusion, just behind the right front wheel well. The impact locked the cars together.
Harvick tried to drive away but burned out his reverse gear trying to separate his car from that of his teammate.
“Yeah, we couldn’t get them unlocked from each other, for whatever reason,” Harvick said after his car was towed to the garage. “The cars were locked together, so our Mobil 1 Ford was stuck, and we couldn’t get her to back up anymore. I ripped reverse out of it trying to get it to go backwards and it was just stuck together.”
Harvick finished 36th and collected two points for the race. Busch was credited with 37th and got one point for his efforts. Harvick, at least, had a cushion coming to New Hampshire. Busch was already on the bubble where advancement to the Round of 12 is concerned.
Consequently, for practical purposes Busch goes to next Sunday’s Round of 16 finale at Dover International Speedway 15th in the standings and in a must-win position, unless a handful of drivers ahead of him have serious issues.
“I don’t know what to say,” a stunned Busch said after a visit to the infield care center. “It’s tough when you’re running where we were. We were just trying to limp it to the end of stage two and I heard, ‘Car spinning off of (Turn) 2’ in my ear. I saw smoke up ahead. A lot of times (the wrecked cars will) come back up (the track), and I tried to leave the high side or the low side and then, boom, as soon as the smoke cleared I’m looking at Harvick’s door, my teammate.
“We’re both running for the Playoffs, and it’s a shame that the handling is off and we’re both running where we were, but we were still going to fight all the way to the end, and now we don’t have a chance. I cannot understand the bad luck that we’re having.”