Long: Late-race woes making Kyle Busch’s road to the Chase more difficult

3 Comments

DOVER, Del. — Crew chief Adam Stevens stared at the crinkled left-rear quarter panel of Kyle Busch’s Toyota.

A wave of crew members, pushing, pulling or carrying equipment rushed by as did fans and competitors. Stevens didn’t notice.

He viewed a car that had been so good Sunday before it was wrecked, damaging not only a vehicle but Busch’s hopes to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

In his two points races back, Busch has been running well late only to be thwarted by fuel mileage and a lapped car. With an average finish of 23.5, Busch needs better results in the 13 races before the Chase begins to be eligible for it with a win and being in the top 30 in points.

“When you only have 15 races to score all the points you need to score and get a win, you can’t squander them on the hook,’’ Stevens told NASCAR Talk. “I haven’t done the math to see where that will put us, but certainly one more of those, and that will be the end of that. You might get one mulligan in a 15-race stretch, and we just used it right there.’’

Here’s what Busch faces after finishing 36th Sunday at Dover International Speedway because of an incident with Brian Scott.

  • Busch has scored 42 points in two races back.
  • Justin Allgaier is 30th in standings with 210 points halfway to when the Chase begins.
  • Busch needs 378 points, at this rate, to rank 30th and be Chase eligible (a win would provide the tiebreaker as long as that driver also hasn’t won).
  • Because Busch needs a win (worth at least 47 points), he must score 331 points in the other 12 races before the Chase.
  • Busch must average 27.6 points a race – about a 17th-place finish – in those 12 other races to meet that requirement.
  • Busch’s hopes took a hit Sunday after contact with Scott 27 laps from the finish.

“Brian said his spotter didn’t say anything, and he just chopped the corner and I was under him already, and it just sucked me around,’’ Busch said. “This isn’t what we need.’’

Darian Grubb can relate to the pressure Busch and Stevens face. Grubb was Denny Hamlin’s crew chief when Hamlin missed four races in 2013 after he was injured in a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway.

Hamlin needed several strong finishes to have a chance of making the Chase that year. After scoring three top-10s in his first four races back, Hamlin’s hopes ended when he failed to score a top-20 finish in five consecutive races.

“If they go out and bust off two or three wins, that’s going to put them in good shape to be close,’’ Grubb said. “I think that’s what they’ve got to do.’’

Even with Busch’s strong runs the last two weeks, scoring multiple wins and gaining those points is something only Jimmie Johnson (four wins) and Kevin Harvick (two wins) have done in the first 13 races of the season.

That’s a lot of pressure on a team.

“You absolutely have to embrace it,’’ Stevens said. “You can’t pretend like it’s not there. We all race with pressure every week. Is this a different level? Sure.

“It’s business as usual because our backs were already up against the wall.’’