Kyle Busch’s night in the playoff-opening Cook Out Southern 500 came to an early end Sunday after a Lap 125 crash at Darlington Raceway.
Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota made significant contact with the outside retaining wall in Turn 2 after contact from the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of non-playoff driver Austin Dillon. Busch drove away with heavy damage but parked in the garage to end his race.
“It’s killed,” Busch told his team over the radio communications as he limped back to pit road and brought his No. 18 behind the wall. He finished 35th in the 37-car field and now sits two points outside of advancing with two races left in the Round of 16.
After a routine check at the infield care center, Busch was critical of his team’s performance and also made a point to clear Dillon of blame.
“It wasn’t the 3’s fault. Just take our lumps, you know,” Busch said. “We were running like (expletive) and got wrecked, so that’s what you get when you run like (expletive). It just shouldn’t be there. I don’t know what our problem is, but every time we go to sim and use sim and think we have a good sim session, we go to the race track and we suck. So I’m done with that, and we’ll have to use some other tools in figuring out how to be good, but the M&M’s Camry was not very good and we’re running terrible and we got wrecked. It wasn’t the 3’s fault.”
Busch stands to gain back some of his lost ground in the Round of 16’s remaining races. He’s a six-time winner at Richmond Raceway, site of the Cup Series’ next race on Saturday night, and Bristol Motor Speedway — host of the last event before the first elimination phase — is a track where Busch has won eight times.
Busch found little consolation in the favorable schedule after his early exit at Darlington.
“Who cares?” Busch said. “We get what we get.”
Coach Joe Gibbs was celebrating at the end of the night with Denny Hamlin in Victory Lane for the first time this season, but the evening presented a mixed bag for the venerable team owner’s four-car organization. Martin Truex Jr. rallied for fourth place, Christopher Bell finished an eventful 20th and Busch brought up the JGR caboose.
But Busch wasn’t the only playoff driver exiting early after a crash; the same fate also hit Chase Elliott, William Byron and Michael McDowell, which kept a large group bunched up near the provisional elimination line.
“Well, I think everybody in the sport — he’s been through the Playoffs a number of times. We have, and it’s extremely tough,” Gibbs said. “You’ve got three races, it’s like the whole playoffs. The thing that probably helped us some, it seemed like a lot of cars that were in the (playoffs) had issues. And so I haven’t seen where the points are or anything, but this is going to be a hard-fought deal for the next two weeks. I think that’s probably what the fans like.
“But there’s going to be a lot on the line. As I mentioned, this race was — it was really tough tonight. It was physical.”