Reign­ing champ fac­ing ouster

Kyle Busch des­per­ate for vic­tory as he looks to sal­vage rough sea­son

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Jenna Fryer

CON­CORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch, to be clear, was only vent­ing when he said he’d be knocked out of the play­offs this round. The reign­ing Cup cham­pion in­sisted he was frus­trated and flip­pant when he wrote off his sea­son.

“I wouldn’t be con­tin­u­ing to go to the race­track each and ev­ery week and pour­ing my heart and soul into this and tak­ing time away from my fam­ily if I didn’t care,” Busch said. “That’s tongue-incheek talk and should be known as that, com­ing from me, ob­vi­ously.

“It is what it is, and we’re go­ing to go on this week and fight like hell and try to make it through.”

Here he is on the verge of elim­i­na­tion headed into Sun­day’s race on the hy­brid road courseo­val at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. Busch is 21 points be­low the cut­off line and could be­come the first reign­ing cham­pion elim­i­nated in the round of 12 when four are trimmed from the field.

At stake is his bid to be­come the first driver to win con­sec­u­tive ti­tles since Jim­mie Johnson won five straight from 2006-2010. Busch also would lose his fiveyear streak of ad­vanc­ing to the cham­pi­onship race, but even worse, his run of at least one win ev­ery year since his 2005 rookie sea­son is in se­ri­ous dan­ger.

Busch doesn’t need to win on the “Roval” to ad­vance, but there’s only five races re­main­ing for him to im­prove his sea­son. Just one win will tie him for third on the all-time list at 16 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons with Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace and Johnson.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant. Think about it, it’s a 16-year in­vest­ment,” Busch said. “It would be nice if I’m able to keep win­ning races all the way through my ca­reer each and ev­ery sin­gle year that I’m out there.”

Only Denny Ham­lin and Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother, are locked into the round of eight. Be­low the cut­line with Busch are Austin Dil­lon, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer, who an­nounced he’s mov­ing to the Fox Sports booth at the end of this sea­son.

The task Sun­day is not just ex­celling on Char­lotte’s hy­brid course, which was de­signed as a unique venue in 2018 specif­i­cally to en­hance the play­offs, but also to ad­just to ad­verse weather. The Sun­day fore­cast calls for an 80% chance for rain and the road course por­tion of the Roval per­mits NASCAR to race in wet con­di­tions.

The Cup Series has never raced in the rain and Goodyear on Satur­day of­fered an ex­plainer on the four sets of tires each team will have Sun­day. The tires most closely com­pare to the con­sumer Ea­gle F1 all-sea­son Goodyear tire and Juan Pablo Mon­toya as­sisted on their fi­nal devel­op­ment 10 years ago.

The Xfin­ity Series has raced in wet con­di­tions be­fore and the rain tires were needed Satur­day in a slip­pery po­ten­tial pre­view of the main event. Cars were hy­droplan­ing all over the course, crash­ing into the wall and strug­gling to get the wind­shield wipers work­ing.

That was from com­peti­tors who not only have raced in the rain be­fore, but just did it in Au­gust at Road Amer­ica. The Cup driv­ers have never be­fore used rain tires in com­pe­ti­tion.

“It is fair. Ev­ery­one has the same op­por­tu­nity,” said Joey Logano, eighth and in the trans­fer spot ahead of Busch.

Logano asked Team Penske driver Austin Cin­dric, who has raced in the rain in the Xfin­ity Series, for tips, but also won­dered if there’s a limit on how much rain NASCAR will tol­er­ate.

“At what point is it too much rain? Is stand­ing wa­ter or run­ning wa­ter across the race­track where you can hy­droplane what is the line?” Logano won­dered. “What is the drainage like at that race­track through the in­field road course? I don’t know.

“I’ve never re­ally looked around when it was pour­ing rain to see how that road course drains, so there are so many ques­tions that we have no an­swers to. We just have to ex­pect the un­ex­pected at this point.”

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