Sunday, September 25, 2022

CUP: Kyle Busch’s crash the first of many in brutal Texas race


by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kyle Busch picked up the 10th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota crashed after 48 of 334 laps.

The finish, which came in Busch’s 636th series start, was his second of the year and first since Pocono, nine races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 37th for the #18, the 179th for Toyota, and the 636th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #18, the 385th for Toyota, and the 1,307th from a crash.

Since his most recent feature at this site, where he and teammate Denny Hamlin were disqualified following their 1-2 finish at Pocono, Kyle Busch has finally announced his plans for 2023 – a move to Richard Childress Racing’s #8 team was revealed on September 13 – while enduring a wildly inconsistent stretch run on the track. Finishes of 11th at Indianapolis, 9th at Richmond, and 10th at Daytona were offset by a 36th-place crash at Michigan and a 32nd at Watkins Glen. 

When the Playoffs began, Busch’s luck turned bad at the worst possible time. After leading 155 laps of the Southern 500, he blew the engine coming to the final restart, then ran 26th at Kansas before another engine let go at Bristol. Quite suddenly, Busch arrived at Texas as one of the first four drivers eliminated from the Playoffs.

Once again, only the 36 Chartered entries occupied the Texas garage area, resulting in the smallest field to ever start a Cup points-paying race there. Of these, Busch ranked 15th in practice and qualified 18th with a lap of 187.240mph (28.840 seconds). 

Cody Ware’s #51 Nurtec ODT Ford was the only car to not log a lap in qualifying, the team making repairs after Ware spun into the inside wall off Turn 2 during practice. He’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, to be joined by 31st-place Justin Haley in LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet and 34th-place B.J. McLeod in the #78 Boss Truck Stops Ford. Like Ware, Erik Jones spun in practice – his off Turn 4 – but his #43 Focus Factor Chevrolet didn’t incur a tail-end penalty for any repairs.

The hottest Cup race in the Texas track’s history began with Haley’s penalized car last across the stripe, 3.176 back of the lead and just a few hundredths behind McLeod. By the end of the first lap, Haley passed McLeod, who was 4.105 seconds back of the lead and just 0.176 back of new 35th-place runner Landon Cassill in the #77 WearMe Chevrolet. McLeod reeled in Cassill through Turns 1 and 2, but by Lap 5 had lost three-tenths to him when he was told of a car slowing up front. On Lap 7, Cody Ware’s #51 plummeted back to 36th in the high line as McLeod moved to 35th. As the run continued, Cassill opened up more than one second’s advantage over 35th-place McLeod as he caught and passed Ware’s teammate Garrett Smithley in the #15 Trophy Tractor Ford. Cassill dropped Smithley to 34th on Lap 12 with both McLeod and Ware catching him. Ware’s laps were trending toward 31 seconds, so team told him to aim for a 30.80-second lap.

But on Lap 14, 17th-place runner Bubba Wallace pitted his #45 MoneyLion Toyota out of 17th, citing issues with his steering feeling heavy. Mindful of the same issue that put them behind last week in Bristol, the crew changed four tires and sent him back out nearly two laps down, taking last on Lap 16. Wallace said his steering was still very stiff, but his fresh tires and fast car allowed him to climb past Ware, McLeod, and Smithley by Lap 22. On Lap 38, Wallace had a close call when Ty Dillon and Chase Briscoe were locked in a side-by-side battle for position and bounced off each other in Turn 2. Wallace cut low and cleared both cars, then by Lap 39 had put Ware back to last place when the caution fell for Martin Truex, Jr., whose #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota spun into the infield grass off Turn 4. Under caution, Ware reported his car was extremely free as the tires’ grip fell off during the run.

On the Lap 45 restart, Truex cleared minimum speed without serious damage while last-place running Ware set his sights on teammate Smithley, who was now in 35th and on his same lap. On Lap 49, Ware had just passed Smithley, putting the #15 to last for the first time in the race, when both cleared a car stopped in the middle of the track off Turn 4. This was Kyle Busch, who was running 4th and trying to run the high line to battle teammate Denny Hamlin. But according to Busch, the traction compound in the high lane proved slicker than expected, and he spun 180 degrees and hit the wall with the left-rear corner, then the left-front. After dropping the window net, Busch made it to pit road, taking the last spot on Lap 50, but almost immediately pulled behind the wall, out of the race.

The ensuing stretch saw the racing turn as brutal as the weather. The hardest wreck belonged to Cody Ware, who on Lap 168 snapped loose in Turns 3 and 4 and slammed the outside wall nearly head-on. Ware’s car then skidded to a stop on pit road, nearly hitting a 90-degree barrier at the entrance to the garage. After a few tense moments, Ware climbed from the car, but fell soon after, requiring immediate medical assistance. Ware was transported by ambulance to the infield care center. Rick Ware Racing confirmed Ware had been checked and released from the infield care center during a later red flag for a lightning hold with 114 to go.

Cole Custer took 35th after he lost a tire on his #41 Autodesk / Ford and hit the outside wall with the right-front corner. Custer’s wreck saved Christopher Bell, whose #20 Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota cut down a right-rear tire at the same instant. But later in the race, Bell lost another tire and this time hit the wall. The car suffered heavy damage to the right-front suspension, and the crew’s ten minutes of repairs expired with the wheel still removed. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Chase Elliott, whose #9 NAPA Auto Parts / Valvoline Chevrolet was one of the fastest cars. He was still leading on Lap 184 when the right-rear tire blew exiting Turns 3 and 4, putting him into the wall. He skidded to a stop in the infield grass and climbed from the car, apparently without serious injury.

J.J. Yeley's Interstate Batteries Chevrolet after his crash at Texas in 2007.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #18 in a Cup Series race at Texas since April 15, 2007, when J.J. Yeley picked up the first last-place finish of his career after a Lap 1 tangle with David Ragan and Ricky Rudd. Yeley was also running for Joe Gibbs Racing with Interstate Batteries as sponsor.
*Busch is now the fifth consecutive past Cup Series champion to finish last in a Cup race, following Martin Truex, Jr. (Bristol, 2017 champion), Kevin Harvick (Kansas, 2014), Chase Elliott (Darlington, 2020), and Kyle Larson (Daytona, 2021).

36) #18-Kyle Busch / 48 laps / crash
35) #41-Cole Custer / 77 laps / crash
34) #20-Christopher Bell / 136 laps / dvp
33) #51-Cody Ware / 166 laps / crash
32) #9-Chase Elliott / 184 laps / crash

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing (5)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports (4)
4th) Spire Motorsports (3)
5th) Penske Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Trackhouse Racing (2)
6th) 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Team Hezeberg (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (12)
2nd) Toyota (6)


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