And then there were 12

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 17: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, exits the track to his hauler after an engine failure during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

And just like that two NASCAR veterans both champions and favorites, are out of the Playoffs. Late Saturday night Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick saw their Playoff runs end at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch was arguably in a decent position coming into the race despite blowing at engine late in the going at Darlington the first race in the Playoffs. Starting the night he was 21 points above the cutoff line and was running competitively much of the first half of the race.

Toyotas had been suffering mechanical issues all race long. Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs, and Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. all suffered power steering issues with Truex forced to park early.

Even fellow JGR driver Denny Hamlin reported possible power steering issues leading to a lot of nervousness in the Toyota camp. Busch however raced on, finishing third in the first Stage, and fifth in the second which ended on lap 250.

For a time it appeared he would move to the next round on point thanks in large part to the extra Playoff points picked up in the Stages.

On lap 271 though, it all ended. It wasn’t power steering, but an entire engine that blew. Busch slowly rolled the smoking machine to the garage, got out and walked away leaving his Playoff hopes in a puddle of oil and water.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet, reacts after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

For the next few laps there seemed a chance that Busch could still make it through on points due to attrition. In the end though all hope was lost as Austin Cindric, who had issues earlier in the race, ran enough laps to move ahead of Busch in the standings. Cindric moved on to the next round, Busch was left with the earliest exit in the Playoffs he’s ever experienced.

“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. 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.”

Kevin Harvick ended a 65-race winless streak at Michigan in August. He followed that up with a win the next week at Richmond. He came into Bristol however in a must win situation after finishes of 33rd and 36th in the first two Playoff races.

For a time Saturday night, it looked as though he might very well win his way into the next round. Harvick was running near the front of the pack much of the race, crucially as the laps wound down. But during pit stops in the race’s 11th and final caution brought out when Bell lost a tire and hit the wall, Harvick’s crew failed to fully secure his front wheel forcing him to back up and lose several spots on track. Harvick would try and rally, but in the end could only salvage a 10th place finish and was eliminated.

“It just kind of goes with the whole year,” Harvick said. “Nothing has gone right, really.  The wheels literally fell off tonight.”

“It was pretty tough.  We pitted in front of the 17, but that’s just the way the year has gone.  We went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade, just difficult to pass.  The cars are way too fast in the corners.  You can’t race.”

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, exit pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Busch announced earlier in the week that he will move to Richard Childress Racing in 2023. In a somewhat cruel ironic twist, both of the RCR cars were eliminated for the Playoffs after being involved in accidents.

“I was just told the No. 99 (Daniel Suarez) wrecked in front of the field there and got in the No. 47 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.),” Dillon, who finished 31st said. “I hate it for the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops / TRACKER Off Road Chevy team. We got left-front suspension damage and if we don’t get that, we’re out there running and probably in a good points position to make it.

“It’s unfortunate, but we put ourselves in a little bit of a bind, points-wise, in the first two races. We were doing our job today though. We had a great race car and got stage points. It’s just unfortunate we were caught up in it.”

Reddick was able to continue for a few laps after the accident but was eventually forced to the garage and left with a 25th place finish.

“I saw the crash happen. I checked up, but I just got run over. We had two bad races with bad finishes. We had two really good race cars, but we just didn’t capitalize on it and that was enough to miss it.

“It was terrible. It’s out of your control; you can’t really fight to do anything about it. Hoping for others’ misfortunes is no way to race.”


Greg Engle