By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, Ala.) — Kyle Busch was eliminated from championship contention as a result of his involvement in a multi-car incident on Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. He finished 40th and was ultimately seven points out of a transfer position by time the dust settled.
Busch opened the Chase with five consecutive top-10 finishes, the best start to a playoff in his career, and was second entering in the standings prior to the weekend. He had a 26-point cushion but it was all for nothing when Austin Dillon ran into the back of Busch once drivers started slamming on brakes to avoid the spinning JJ Yeley.
Busch made contact with the inside retaining wall and was forced to immediately drive his tattered Toyota Camry to the garage area.
His team, led by crew chief Dave Rogers, leaped into action and had the car repaired by lap 143. The car was back on the track by lap 152 but it wasn’t enough to gain the points needed to advance, leaving him 10th out of the remaining 12 contenders with the top-eight moving forward.
Busch declined media requests to comment after the race and walked straight to the driver coach lot. Rogers, however, praised Busch for his leadership over the past five weeks during the Chase where the team made a considerable leap in performance from the regular season.
“I can’t praise him enough,” Rogers said of his driver. “He’s really stepped up to be a great leader of this race team in the Chase. We’ve had a couple things go against us — getting the nose knocked off at Loudon, today — and Kyle’s done a really good job of biting his lip and just backing the race team to let us do our job. Kyle, I can’t say enough good about him and I’m really proud of him.”
Even though their chase for the season title has ended, Rogers still believes he and his crew have much to race for over the next four weeks at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
“It’s been a lot of fun working with Kyle and we’re not done yet,” Rogers added. “We can’t win the championship, but we can still advance in points and work our way up to fifth. We’re going to go to Martinsville working hard and we’re going to try to win all these races.”
Their team owner, Joe Gibbs, simply expressed disappointment for his driver and the entire No. 18 team, noting the improvements they have made since a sluggish regular season that barely saw them crack the top-20 after the final regular season race at Richmond last month.
“I’m just really disappointed for Kyle,” Gibbs said. “Nothing went our way really. First of all, getting hit from behind, our car was all tore to pieces. I don’t know how the guys got it back out there but I really appreciate them working like that.”
Busch entered the race as the highest driver in the standings without a win in the Contender Round and needed just an average day in order to advance. He was one of only two championship eligible drivers to have posted a top-10 in every race in the playoffs but was eliminated due to one bad finish on Sunday.
Gibbs added that this is an element of the Chase that teams have to accept and Busch was just caught on the wrong side of it at Talladega.
“I think this is where we are with the three-race playoffs,” Gibbs said. “This is where we are. You can be real consistent but if you have one bad experience at the wrong time, you can end up in trouble.”
When asked if he felt the format was fair, given the team’s consistency, Rogers said that he believed it was because they had plenty of time to prepare and better position themselves for Talladega.
“They told us what the rules were and we all signed up to play,” Rogers said. “I love this game and I love playing this sport. They can change the rules every year and the points format — that’s none of my business. I just have to read the rules and try to perform at our best according to them.
“I’m bitter and I’m discouraged, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s unfair. The rules are the rules — they didn’t change them halfway through Talladega — nothing to complain about there.”