The Bristol Night Race always puts on a show. With a tight points battle hovering around the playoff cutline entering the race, surely, 2022’s edition would be no different.
With many drivers not knowing what to expect and how the Next Gen car would race at Bristol, it would be about managing mistakes compared to other playoff drivers. However, not one, not two, not three, but 12 of the 16 drivers battling for the championship experienced woes in Thunder Valley.
It started early with Austin Cindric, when the No. 2 Ford blew a right front tire. Less than 10 laps later, his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney experienced the same issue and smacked the outside wall. The No. 12 car ended the race 162 laps down, as he made minimum speed before the team worked on his suspension which saw the right rear dragging on the ground.
Many more drivers throughout the field had issues. Plenty of Fords experienced additional tire issues while Toyotas main hinderance was power steering — non-playoff drivers Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs and Martin Truex Jr. all went behind the wall within 20 laps for the same problem. But Toyota’s biggest problem came on lap 272, shortly after Stage 3 went green. Kyle Busch had an engine expire in a big way.
Busch drove his No. 18 car to the garage, hopped out and walked to his hauler. His night was over, despite scoring 14 stage points.
“Just goes with our year,” Busch told NBC Sports of his engine expiring. “I don‘t even know what to say; I‘m flabbergasted. I feel so bad for my guys. They don‘t deserve to be in this spot. They‘ve worked too hard and we‘re too good of a group to be this low, down on the bottom, just to be fighting for our lives to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you.”
With Busch blowing an engine in the playoff opener at Darlington two weeks ago, it’s just the second time in his career — 635 Cup starts — that he’s blown two engines in a three-week period.
On the next restart, Daniel Suarez lost control of his car, collecting playoff drivers Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Todd Gilliland also got caught up in the melee. Dillon’s championship hopes were over.
All the while, Kevin Harvick remained a threat for the win, entering the race in a must-win scenario, 35 points below the cutline. But his race went awry on a late pit stop, dropping eight spots to 11th. Over the dash to the finish, the No. 4 car gained one position to 10th. He missed the Round of 12 by 24 points.
“It‘s pretty tough,” Harvick said of his night. “We pitted in front of [Chris Buescher, eventual race winner], so that‘s just kind of the way the year has gone. Went from having a chance to lead the parade to being part of the parade.”
Cindric ended the 500-lap race where he ended the night: two points above the cutline, which was a tie between Reddick and Busch. He finished 20th, seven laps down.
“We had right front tires going down left and right at the beginning of the race,” Cindric said. “I tried to do my job, hang in there and gut that one out.
“Drive my butt off, man, that‘s what it takes. You‘ve got to stay in the game. You know when there‘s issues that they‘re going to keep happening throughout the race. Just have to stay in it and make the issues smaller than the rest.”
It’s the first time in both of their future Hall of Fame careers that Busch and Harvick failed to make it into the Round of 12.
Two former champs see their #NASCARPlayoffs end at @BMSupdates. pic.twitter.com/1511pVEZNk
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 18, 2022
After the points reset, Blaney has moved to the cutline with a two-point advantage on Chase Briscoe. Bowman and Suarez are six points behind, as Cindric is just seven points back.