BRISTOL, Tenn. – A night when attrition turned Bristol’s dizzying 500 laps into a series of mathematical equations, and one of the tensest battles for position involved a damaged car on the track and one that had been charged into the hauler of a team, perhaps it was no surprise that any playoff driver with ties – past, present and future – to Richard Childress Racing was eliminated from title contention.
Kyle Busch was “flabbergasted” after his second engine failure in this round meant he would not win the championship in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. His next title attempt will come in the #8 Richard Childress Racing car in 2023.
Tyler Reddick, the current #8 driver, was also eliminated after his car was damaged in an accident and could not gain enough positions. Reddick (25th) and Busch (34th) both finished two points behind Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric – who overcame several tire failures and finished seven laps behind winner Chris Buescher in 20th – to secure the last place in the playoffs.
Also failing to advance in the playoffs: Austin Dillon, who finished 31st, and former Childress driver Kevin Harvick, who placed 10th.
It was the first time Harvick and Busch had each been knocked out in the first round.
“If I’m done with my media obligations and NASCAR releases me, I’m going home,” Busch said after leaving the event. “I have children at home.
Harvick saw his chances of winning—essentially his only way forward—ended when a wheel failed to tighten and fell off, forcing him back to his stall on his final pit stop. What should have been a 10-12 second pit stop took over 30 seconds.
“I just went from being lucky enough to lead the parade to being part of the parade,” Harvick said.
But it was more than two former champions losing the title. It was exploding tires, failing power steering systems, and an engine belching smoke, fluids, and everything in a smokescreen that nearly wiped out Cindric.
Chris Gabehart, Denny Hamlin’s crew chief, predicted chaos last week in Kansas, telling NBC Sports that the Bristol race was “the Next Gen car’s final challenge.”
Nothing carried over from the spring race on dirt. The other concrete tracks are quite different from those in Bristol and the demands on the cars. We wondered how much this new car could withstand.
The result was a hodgepodge of incidents that forced drivers and team leaders to recalculate points, hone priorities and refocus on the task at hand.
Cindric was four laps down before the race went 100 laps. His hopes of moving forward seemed lost. With such a long night ahead of him, he had to find a way to stay motivated.
“I guess the funny thing is when I’m preparing for these races, I don’t have too much weight to lose, a lot to burn, so I always hydrate a ton,” he said. he declares. “I was sitting there (in the car) thinking, ‘You know what, you hydrated for a reason, you really gotta pee for a reason. You might as well use that (as motivation) .
“So I would say it’s a little motivational thing, maybe it’s a little weird, I don’t know, but I came prepared and might as well give everything we have.”
Yes, it’s a weird motivation, but it worked.
Things changed drastically when Busch’s engine blew up on lap 270.
“It happened right in front of me,” Cindric said. “He had smoke coming out, stopped right away and I almost ran into his back. I had a ringside seat for just about everything that happened. I guess that’s what happens when you’re in the back.
Cindric’s chances improved on the restart when several cars crashed, including those of Reddick, Dillon and Daniel Suarez.
The incident started when Suarez got out of shape, tagged another car and triggered a pile-up. Dillon tried to continue but eventually ran out of time on policing the damaged vehicles. Reddick finished 31 laps down due to necessary repairs. Suarez continued, finishing six laps behind the leaders in 19th, good enough to advance.
Cindric then had a wave and gained enough places to edge out Busch and Reddick.
As the checkered flag waved madness, Cindric’s crew chief Jeremy Bullins threw a fierce hand-pump in celebration and clapped the hands of those around him in the pit.
“Obviously you’re not celebrating a win,” he told NBC Sports, “but you’re celebrating an accomplishment.”
It’s time for the next round of the Cup qualifiers and we can only imagine what awaits us.