CONCORD, N.C. – For some Chase drivers, Sunday’s rain-delayed Bank of America 500 meant they were a day closer to the next race and a chance to atone for issues at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Contact with another competitor played a role in a downward cycle for Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
They head to Kansas Speedway – the middle race in the second round – outside the top eight in points. Only eight of the 12 Chase drivers advance to the third round.
Busch’s woes started with a bizarre incident with Kyle Larson on Lap 195.
With Joey Logano leading, Larson second and Busch third, Busch dived to the apron as if to enter pit road before turning back toward the track. Larson made a hard left turn toward pit road as Busch, below Larson on the track, turned right. The contact spun Larson and damaged the front of Busch’s car.
“What … was he thinking?’’ Busch said on his radio about Larson. “He wasn’t going to make the … commitment cone anyway.’’
Larson felt remorse after the race and talked to Busch’s team.
“My crew had just told me to do what the guys around me were going to do, so I was just going to follow (Logano) and do whatever he did,’’ Larson said. “When I saw (Logano) stay out, I was going to stay out with him and … they were yelling at me to pit, pit, pit.
“I turned left as hard as I could because I was already close to the commitment cone, and I just turned right into his right front, Kyle’s right front. I just feel awful for those guys. I hope I’m not the reason why they miss the next round.’’
Busch later had problems, hitting the wall after he said he ran through oil. NASCAR claimed it found no fluid on the track. Busch went on to finish 20th.
Earnhardt also claimed that he ran through oil and hit the wall – one of several times he hit the wall in the 334-lap race.
His problems started after he had contact with Carl Edwards. That sent Earnhardt into the Turn 2 wall, bringing out the caution on Lap 76.
“It stinks he ended up hitting the wall’’ Edwards said. “I felt like he blocked me real hard the first time and so the second time I got up there when he came down, I just held my ground and we got together. He did an amazing job saving it and I have a ton of respect for him, so it stinks that it ruined his day.
“I have to hold my ground when I’ve got my nose in there. Like I said, it stinks that it ruined their day.”
Said Earnhardt: “Carl got a great run on us and drove down into (Turn 1) and got into the back of us a little bit. I don’t know if I cut him off or not. He drove in there pretty hard.’’
Earnhardt went on to finish 28th and is 19 points out of the eighth spot (Brad Keselowski) in the Chase standings.
Kenseth finished 42nd with his rough day including a bad pit stop, contact with a competitor and contact with the wall multiple times.
“Everything kind of snowballed,’’ he said. “We were real fast out front, we were kind of tight in traffic and got behind pitting and then I missed the pit stall trying to come around (Ryan Blaney) and had to back up in the pit and that put us back there, so just kind of snowballed.’’
While in traffic, Kenseth had contact with Ryan Newman, sending Kenseth’s car into the wall.
“(Newman) went up like I thought he was broke, so I went up through the middle and I thought I left him plenty of room and then next thing I know I was pointed at the fence,’’ Kenseth said.
Kenseth left Charlotte 32 points behind eighth in the points but one day closer to the next race.