The king will be dethroned.
Kyle Busch has been eliminated from 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title contention, making him the first reigning champ in the elimination era to not advance out of the Round of 12 the year after his championship. He can officially no longer defend his crown.
Through 32 of the 36 races, Busch remains winless. The 35-year-old has won at least one race every season since he started full-time racing in 2005. That 15-year streak ties for sixth all time.
“There‘s certainly been times where I thought, ‘Man, there‘s something wrong with me,‘” Busch said in a video conference. “I‘m not doing it right. I don‘t know what I‘m doing. Or car‘s not quite right. Or I‘m not trusting what the car is really doing and telling me, so I should just drive it harder and then I‘m crashed. I don‘t know what to think.
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“But certainly it would be nice to score a win and to have a win for this year. That would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone.”
Busch placed 30th in Sunday‘s Round of 12 cutoff event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. That put him 11th in the playoff standings. He was out by a solid 49 points.
That performance marked his seventh finish 30th or worse this season. It was his 11th time outside the top 20.
Busch did have the lead with 21 laps to go, opting not to pit under caution while the frontrunners did, but lost it after three go-arounds to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones. Hendrick Motorsports‘ Chase Elliott then took control and led the last 18 laps to the checkered flag.
“I just knew that we were trying something — anything,” Busch said. “Some of the other guys stayed out behind me. There was only four or five of them. I thought maybe if there was 10 or 12 of them, we might have a better shot at having an opportunity to stay out front.
“Even on the restart, even on the fire-off — trying to get everything warmed up, ready to go — I didn‘t have anything to be able to drive away.”
The damage the No. 18 Toyota sustained earlier may have contributed to that.
On Lap 49, Busch‘s left-front tire went flat. He thought the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Clint Bowyer cut it during passing contact. Regardless, it ultimately put Busch in the back of the pack at the start of the final stage, prompting the no-pit Hail Mary strategy later on.
“Obviously we didn‘t have anything for nobody today,” Busch said.
Busch entered the race below the cutline by 21 points. Before the Round of 12 even started, he predicted he wouldn‘t make it out still active in the playoffs anyway.
Four races remain in 2020, starting with the Round of 8 opener at Kansas Speedway next Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Busch would like to make it to Victory Lane — certainly going to try to — but is not optimistic about his chances.
“Do we even have a shot to win?” Busch said. “I don‘t think we even have a shot.”