The chaos Kyle Busch needed late in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval never came. The result is his title hopes are over.
A flat tire put Busch into a strategy that needed rain or several caution laps late. Those never came before Chase Elliott won Sunday’s race. Busch ran out of fuel and was forced to pit with three laps to go.
Busch finished 30th. He becomes the first reigning Cup champion to be eliminated so early in the playoffs since the current format debuted in 2014.
“It’s just been the year,” Busch told NBC Sports after the race. “Nothing has played out and been on our side. It’s just been unfortunate circumstances, a lot of bad luck. These guys on this M&M’s team never give up and they fight all year long, every race and every lap.
“Man, one of them off years. A terrible year for me. As other sports greats could say there are many other drivers that would love to have a year that we’re having, but man it’s just frustrating to know how good we are and what we’re capable of and being champions from last year to not come out here and succeed and be able to win.”
Busch had reached the championship race each of the past five seasons, winning the title in 2015 and last year.
He was eliminated Sunday along with Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola. All four entered the race outside a transfer spot.
A flat left front tire shortly before the end of stage 2 ultimately doomed Busch. He made contact with Clint Bowyer on a restart with two laps left in stage 2. Busch immediately reported a flat left front tire. He worked his way around the road course to pit.
“Sorry, we had … nothing of luck,” Busch said on the radio to his team.
He also made contact with Austin Dillon off Turn 4 on the oval and spun Dillon to bring out the caution on Lap 70.
“My bad,” Busch said on his team’s radio. “This sucks.”
It has been that kind of a season for Busch. He remains winless with four races left in the season. Busch has had at least one win in each of the past 15 season, tied for sixth on the all-time list.
Busch, frustrated with lapped traffic after he finished second in the Bristol playoff race last month, predicted that he would not advance beyond this round. Earlier this week, Busch said he would “fight like hell” to move on to the Round of 8.
“We knew it coming into this round that this was going to be the hardest round for us to get through,” Busch said. “Pretty much impossible and it was. We weren’t able to make up enough or get a win. We’ll just have to fight for a win here the rest of the year.”
Busch’s 17 top-10 finishes are his lowest total having 16 in 2015. HIs 12 top-five finishes are his lowest since having that many in 2015. Busch has one win in his last 54 Cup starts.
Asked if there is anything that needs to change for the No. 18 team or about things they’re not doing better, Busch said: “All of those things have certainly been discussed. I’m sure we’ll keep discussing them.”