The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry has some work to do after the first playoff race. Two-time NASCAR champion Kyle Busch crashed early in Stage 2 at Darlington Raceway, ending his day in the 35th position and falling below the cut line. Now he will have to turn in strong performances at Richmond and Bristol to rebound.
The incident occurred after the end of Stage 1. Busch fought for position with Austin Dillon, but he made contact with the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and collided with the wall. This hit destroyed the rear of the No. 18, prompting Busch to drive immediately to the hauler after running over some safety cones.
“It wasn’t the [No.] 3’s fault. Just take our lumps, you know,” Busch told NBC Sports after the wreck. “We were running like s***, and that’s what you get when you run like s***.”
Busch continued and explained that he and the team had put in a lot of time on the simulator to prepare for the race. However, he said that the team struggles after a good sim session. He added that the goal is to now figure out other tools “to be good.”
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will continue with the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders at Richmond Raceway. The race will take place on Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage as Alex Bowman attempts to sweep the races at Richmond after winning in April.
Busch Has Two Strong Tracks in the Round of 16
While the two-time champion started the playoffs by wrecking at Darlington, he will have two more opportunities to rebound. He will do so at two tracks where he has considerable success.
The next track on the schedule, Richmond, is one where Busch has won the second-most races in his Cup Series career. He has suited up at the .75-mile short track 31 times and has reached Victory Lane six times. The most recent victories took place in 2018 when the driver of the No. 18 swept the two trips to Richmond. Busch also has 18 top-five finishes at the track.
The only track where Busch has performed better caps off the Round of 16. He has competed at Bristol Motor Speedway 31 times in his Cup career, winning eight total times. He first captured the checkered flag in 2007 before winning consecutive races in 2009, 2010-2011, and 2017-2018. Busch’s most recent win at Bristol took place in 2019 when he won his second championship.
Another Playoff Driver Dealt With Major Issues Early
Busch was not the only playoff driver to leave the race early. Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell entered the playoffs needing to make some moves. As the winner of the Daytona 500, he was the first driver to lock up a spot, but he struggled at points throughout the season. The result is that McDowell sat just below the cut line with 2,005 points.
McDowell was unable to stack points at Darlington Raceway due to an early wreck that destroyed the No. 34 Ford Mustang’s front end. He lost control of the stock car on the Turn 2 repave, slid to the left, and slammed into the inside wall.
“The [No.] 43 kind of got everybody jammed up,” McDowell said after the wreck, per “Motorsport” writer Jim Utter. “I think he started on the front there without tires, which is a tough spot to be in and I just went three-wide underneath him and just got into the patch with my left sides just a little bit low. I got loose enough into the wall.”
Despite losing control while racing in the middle of the pack, McDowell did not collect any other drivers. He slid in front of both Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. but missed them both.
McDowell’s wreck relegated him to a 37th-place finish, last among the playoff drivers. He will remain below the cut line entering Richmond Raceway, the second of three tracks in the Round of 16. Instead of simply trying to stack points, his goal will now have to shift to winning to move on to the next round.