CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Another crash has Kyle Busch last in the playoff standings and in danger of elimination Sunday on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch doesn’t need a win to guarantee he advances into the round of eight, but it’s his only guaranteed path. Four drivers will be cut after the race on the hybrid road course/oval, and, short of a victory, Busch will need significant help from other playoff drivers to advance.
He will start fifth Sunday but he’s below the cutline in 12th in the standings. He trails Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain. Reddick, at ninth in the standings, won the pole in Saturday qualifying and trails Brad Keselowski by just two points for the eighth and final spot. William Byron and Ryan Blaney have both already advanced based on wins in the first two races of the round of 12.
After crashing in the opening race of this round at Texas, Busch said he had to “fix” his driving style to better adapt to NASCAR’s second-year Next Gen car, and he called the rash of crashes and spins he’s been involved in all season “stupid.”
Busch was then involved in an early crash at Talladega that left him at the bottom of the standings for a second consecutive week. The two-time Cup champion has been involved in either a spin or crash in 13 races this season and has six DNF’s. He’s also won three times in his first year driving for Richard Childress Racing, which last won a Cup title in 1994 with the seventh and final Cup crown of Dale Earnhardt’s career.
“Me over-trying has sort of hurt my racecraft, if you will, where I haven’t been finishing, frankly,” Busch said. “With me and this Next Gen car, look at how many times I’ve spun out and crashed. It’s just stupid compared to what it has been over time. I’ve still got some work to do on figuring that out.”
Part of it will come down to Busch’s approach, especially Sunday when his season is on the line. The upside is that Busch has been decent in his last two visits to The Roval, and he finished fourth and third the last two years while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I’m a very non-patient person. You’ve got to show some patience in these races, they’re long races,” Busch said. “I think you come in here (and) the stress meter is pegged regardless of whether you’re 30 (points) to the good or 30 behind.
“With these cars and the way the race plays out, it’s so hard to make moves and make passes and get yourself track position whenever you want it. You can’t.”
Kyle Larson, seventh in the standings and 15 points ahead of Reddick in ninth, crashed early in Saturday practice, and the damage to his Chevrolet was significant enough that he couldn’t qualify. Larson will start last on Sunday and certainly isn’t safe from elimination.
Hendrick Motorsports, located about a mile from the main entrance of the Charlotte track, had Larson’s backup car at the shop. The No. 5 crew had to take its backup engine and backup transaxle back to the shop to prepare the Chevrolet that Larson will race Sunday. The team will bring the backup to the track, and it will go through inspection Sunday morning.
Larson, the 2021 Cup champion, was eliminated from the playoffs at The Roval last year.
The upside? A Hendrick Motorsports driver has won three of the fives races at The Roval, and all five previous races have been won by playoff drivers.
STAGE BREAKS RETURN
NASCAR has returned stage breaks to a road course race for the first time this year after doing away with them because fan feedback indicated spectators wanted the manufactured cautions eliminated.
But the elimination of stage breaks backfired when the road course races ran fairly clean with few cautions. At Charlotte on Sunday there will be a scheduled cautions on lap 25 and lap 50.
“I wasn’t surprised to see them come back. We saw those (other road course) races go caution-free. That’s not going to fly,” said two-time Roval winner Chase Elliott. “We weren’t filling the quota so something’s got to change and that was the easiest way to kind of fix it.
“I’d rather do the stage cautions than have them throw some random cautions. I think that’s better and it’s a more fair way to go about it.”
The race will also feature a new restart zone at the exit of the frontstretch chicane. NASCAR tried new restart zones earlier this season at Portland, Indianapolis and Chicago.
“Trying to move the restart zone and make it so we aren’t driving in there five-wide. Something has to give and it usually isn’t a driver,” said playoff driver Chris Buescher, who hoped the change led to cleaner restarts.
“We are all a little hard-headed. Anything we can do to help smooth that out will certainly be a big help.”
ODDS AND ENDS
William Byron and Denny Hamlin are the race favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. … The five previous winners at The Roval were won by drivers under the age of 30, including Christopher Bell who won last year to avoid playoff elimination. … AJ Allmendinger said he’d like to race in the Cup Series next year but has no deal yet with Kaulig Racing. He could end up back in the Xfinity Series next season. … Pitbull, co-owner of Trackhouse Racing, released a new album Saturday morning named for his NASCAR team.
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