Kyle Busch finds trouble in pursuit of another NASCAR title

Kyle Busch’s crew unloads a backup car Friday at Texas Motor Speedway after Busch crashed in practice for Sunday’s Texas AAA 500.
Kyle Busch’s crew unloads a backup car Friday at Texas Motor Speedway after Busch crashed in practice for Sunday’s Texas AAA 500. AP

Defending NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch’s weekend in Texas didn’t get off to a good start Friday.

Busch, who is one of seven drivers whose Chase fate remains uncertain heading into Sunday’s Texas AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, crashed during the first lap of practice Friday morning.

That means Busch will drive a backup car in Sunday’s race. That’s not an ideal situation for somebody who needs to win this week or next, or maintain his spot in the top four to advance to the championship round in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I don’t think I have ever crashed on the first lap of getting out there on the track before,” Busch said. “(It) kind of puts us a little bit more behind the eight ball than we’d like to be. Didn’t even get a lap on that thing.

“Speeds are really high at Texas. When you lose that grip, typically it happens in a hurry and it just kind of got away from me there. I wish that I would have had maybe taken it a little easy, but I really wasn’t even trying that hard. ... Just kind of a shock that it happened.”

Didn’t even get a lap on that thing.

Kyle Busch

The wreck flattened the right side of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. After his team pulled the backup car from the hauler, Busch went on to post the seventh-fastest speed in the practice session. Busch’s frustrations continued later Friday, when the backup car developed a water leak during qualiyfing. Busch will start 24th Sunday.

Busch hasn’t been as dominant this season as he was in 2015, when he won the championship despite missing the first 11 races with a broken leg and foot. But he qualified for the Chase with an early victory at Martinsville, following that with three more at Texas, Kansas and Indianapolis.

Kyle Busch is fourth in the Chase standings and needs to stay at least that high or win at either Texas or Phoenix to advance to the championship round.

He has stayed comfortably within the Chase cutline throughout the playoffs, until a fifth-place finish at last week’s Martinsville race dropped him to fourth in the standings – inside the cutline, but hardly safe.

“We are kind of flying under the radar, which is fine,” said Busch. “We don’t need to be the ones that are flashy. We’ve been able to put ourselves in the right position ... to not have to be flashy.”

4 Victories this season for Busch

Busch would rather be in this kind of situation, actually. He doesn’t want to be in the kind of spot Kevin Harvick has found himself in during recent seasons, when Harvick had to win a race to advance into the next round. Harvick has been successful with that, though, at Phoenix in 2014 to make the championship round and at Dover in 2015 to advance to the second round.

“Harvick kind of gets set behind; he has to go out and be flashy – he has to win in order to prove himself to move on through – that’s kind of when their back is to the wall,” Busch said. “We just try to do what is best for us. We don’t necessarily worry about what our critics say or what others say, we try to make sure that we are staying the plan. So far we have been and it’s getting us through.”