RICHMOND, Va. — Eight hundred miles of racing are in the book of the opening round of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and there’s a tie for the final transfer spot with one race to go in the Round of 16 between Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman.
Busch kicked off the playoffs by finishing sixth at Darlington Raceway and earning 44 points. But just 40 laps in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders at Richmond Raceway, the No. 1 Chevrolet was in the garage.
When running in third position, Busch’s car whipped around entering Turn 1, pounding the outside wall. After examination, it was deemed the No. 1 Chevrolet ran over a piece of debris and had a small puncture in the thread of his left rear tire.
— Goodyear Racing (@GoodyearRacing) September 12, 2021
That, however, doesn’t help Busch’s points situation, as he entered the race 26 points above the cutline. By earning just one point on Saturday, he’ll be racing for his playoff life next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I was just impressed with our speed and the way we unloaded and (the speed) we had in that first 30-lap run,” Busch said from the infield care center. “After the pit stop, something in the left rear wasn‘t right. The guys said they got the tire tight. They made an adjustment and there was no rub and the left rear let go.
“Something happened with that left rear. It let go. It let go of our points and it let go of our whole season right now. I don‘t know what we‘re going to have to do at Bristol other than win.”
Good news for Busch is, he’s a six-time winner at Bristol, most recently picking up the checkered flag in the 2018 night race.
It doesn’t bode well though for his closest competition, Bowman. With finishes of 26th and 12th, respectively in the first two playoff races, the No. 48 team has tallied just 38 points.
Bowman said sarcastically of Busch, “He‘s not very good there, right? He‘s only won [six times]. And then Kyle [Busch] is probably next in front of him. Just a bunch of guys that aren‘t that great at Bristol, so it should be pretty easy to go have a good, solid night.”
In reality, though, he knows the team will have to be near perfect if its going to advance to the Round of 12.
“I feel like you look at it and you‘re like top five both stages, top five finish at a minimum to make it from where we‘re at,” he added. “Beyond that, I think the [No.] 1 is going to be tough to beat there; he‘s been really fast recently. We‘ve probably got to go win the thing, no pressure.”
And if Bowman doesn’t advance, he feels like he only has himself to blame. In the first 15 laps of the playoff opener at Darlington, the No. 48 car was in the wall off Turn 2. Ultimately, he finished four laps off the pace.
On Saturday night, though, Bowman believes the No. 48 car did about what it was capable of.
“Tonight, I don‘t feel like we did anything bad,” he said. “We had an OK night, especially for us at Richmond. We‘ve had way worse nights, all except for two races here. It could have been way worse for us. Darlington is just on me. When you put yourself in a hole like that, it‘s tough to overcome.
“I think if we have a day like we should at Darlington, we would be fine right now. Am I frustrated? Yes. But, what am I going to go do cry about it for the next seven days until I go to work at Bristol?”
In 10 career starts at Bristol, Bowman has a pair of top-10 finishes, with a best result of fifth in 2018.
Virtue of Busch’s sixth-place finish at Darlington, the No. 1 team owns the tiebreaker. However, Aric Almirola has just three points to the good, while Kyle Busch sits eight points in the green.