Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson were both in position to challenge for the win in Sunday’s Bank of America 500.
In a blink of an eye, that changed for both Busch and Larson.
A collision entering pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway with less than 140 laps remaining knocked both drivers out of contention to win Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Larson and Busch were running second and third, respectively, behind Joey Logano’s Ford when the race’s eighth caution came out on Lap 195.
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The leaders had pitted 17 laps earlier during another caution flag, but Busch made a move towards pit road as if he was going to pit again.
After hesitating for a couple seconds, Larson cut the wheel on his Chevrolet hard left trying to make the entrance to pit road – just as Busch turned his Toyota right to pull off the fake and get back on the track.
“They told me to do what everybody around me was doing,” Larson said. “The No. 22 (Logano) was staying out, so I was committed to staying out. (But) as soon as I turned right to stay out, they said ‘pit, pit, pit.’ I hung a left, and Kyle was there.”
The collision spun Larson’s car, and left both drivers with sheet-metal and suspension damage. They were also penalized by NASCAR for commitment-line violations and for speeding on pit road.
Busch went on to finish 20th and Larson 21st – both one lap behind Logano, who went on to win Sunday’s race – but it was especially harmful for Busch’s championship hopes.
“I don’t know what happened,” Busch said. “My guys don’t deserve to be put in these situations year in and year out, but we are for some reason. It’s tough, but we’re going to have to battle back with what we’ve got.”
Busch is now 10th among the 12 eligible drivers after the first race in the Contender Round of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. He either has to win one of the two remaining elimination-round races (at Kansas and Talladega) or finish in the top eight in points to advance to the next round.
“I feel really terrible to ruin their day, and hopefully it didn’t hurt their chances of transferring through this round,” Larson said. “I know they deserve a top-three finish for sure.
“I felt awful immediately, and I still do. I hate it.”