Kansas curse hits frustrated Busch yet again
October 06, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
The driver stood outside the infield care center with a clean bill of health, but also a No. 18 Toyota that was mangled beyond recognition, with parts of its fender still strewn across Turn 2 as it was towed off Kansas Speedway following a Lap 201 wreck with Brian Vickers on Sunday.
The rest of the field circled the 1.5-mile oval under the final laps of the ensuing caution while Busch stood stoically, his Kansas curse continued, his mood matching the storm clouds that were swirling overhead.
Just one day prior, Busch had made his first visit to the medical facility after wrecking his car on the first lap of Saturday's first practice. That's what started this lost weekend for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who brought out his backup car, started at the back of the field in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400, avoided a Lap 1 wreck with Danica Patrick and spun after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya before the final wreck sent him home for good.
"I have no idea what happened on that last one," Busch said. "All I know is we're in Kansas right? That's what we do here. We just crash."
Ah, yes. Kansas. The 1.5-mile oval that is perhaps Busch's worst track, where he's finished outside the top 30 in all of the past three races, a streak that continued with Sunday's 34th-place effort.
It's the place where Busch's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup path veered terribly off-course after a postseason that started with such promise. Back-to-back runner-up finishes, coupled with a fifth-place showing last week at Dover, had Busch at third place in the standings entering Sunday's race.
Two years after finishing 12th in the 12-driver field and one year after failing to qualify for the postseason, the 28-year-old was at his best-ever position in the standings after three Chase races.
Now he's in fifth place and 35 points behind teammate Matt Kenseth with six races remaining in the 2013 season.
"This race track is the worst race track ever, these tires are the worst tires ever," Busch said. "So I'd say it's pretty pathetic. … Obviously (Kansas still gives me problems), and apparently everybody else does too. Just run over the 18 car and get what you need."
Busch pointed no fingers with that comment -- that came earlier.
Tight on-track racing with Montoya late in the 267-lap event resulted in Busch jabbing his finger out the window net toward the No. 42 Chevrolet.
On the next circuit, the No. 18 spun after contact from Montoya sent the Toyota into a tailspin that Busch somehow saved, avoiding a potential massive pileup. It also sent Busch back to 29th place and brought out the 11th caution of the day. The race-ending wreck with Vickers happened 13 laps later.
"He ran into me," Busch said when asked about the Montoya incident. "I don't spin out by myself on the front straightaway, do I?"
Busch's lone bright spot this weekend came in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, where he finished fourth. Even that showing carried ominous overtones -- Busch tapped Brad Keselowski out of the way in a late-race battle, sending Keselowski's No. 22 Penske Racing Ford spinning into the infield grass.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion ripped Busch after the race, promising retribution in Sunday's Cup contest. That never happened. Keselowski and Busch were rarely side-by-side, and even then, Busch was in enough trouble without worrying about potential retribution.
Meanwhile, another driver who wrecked during Saturday's practice and went to a backup car thrived -- and found solace in Busch's painful day.
Kurt Busch drove his backup No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet to a second-place finish, then offered support for his younger brother.
"Well, it's his toughest track on the schedule, plus he had a tough day," Kurt Busch said. "Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Here he is, he's raced 30 races this year, he got into the Chase where he didn’t last year, and then he started the Chase off strong this year. He was a championship front-runner. Now it's gone. So he's going to be frustrated."
And he was frustrated. That much was evident when he hopped in a golf cart after his interviews and rode back to the garage in silence.
His day was done early, his championship hopes having taken a bigger hit than any on-track incident could have delivered.
"It certainly hinders (the title hopes), but we'll just try to get back in it," Kyle Busch said. "Try to work hard and see what falls our way. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."