Kyle Busch never really had a chance to win his third consecutive NASCAR Cup race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota hit the Turn 2 wall on three separate occasions during the Food City 500. His day ended after his right front tire blew for a third time on Lap 258 – just past halfway through the 500-lap race.
“I’m not sure what started it,” Busch said of the problems. “I just kept getting tighter in the long run. Not sure what it was.”
Busch, who won the previous two races at Martinsville and Texas, started fifth Sunday and also had a fast car during Saturday’s practice session. That only added to his bewilderment.
“We had a really great car (Saturday) and were fastest in practice,” he said. “I really felt good about things for (Sunday).”
It was by far the worst showing of the season for Busch, who had four other top-five finishes in addition to his two recent victories. It was his first DNF (did-not-finish) of the season and first since he crashed and finished 39th in the June race at Michigan on his way to the 2015 Cup championship.
Busch wasn’t the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to hit the Turn 2 wall – he was joined by Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth with similar problems. Goodyear, the Cup Series tire manufacturer, took tires from Busch, Hamlin and Kenseth for examination after the race.
Kenseth said he also didn’t know what was causing his tire problems or if there was any connection with Busch’s situation.
“I’m not a tire expert, and I’m not a setup guy,” said Kenseth, whose day ended on Lap 399. “I don’t think we’re doing anything much different than we’ve ever done here. Same tire and pretty similar setups that we always run. No major handling problems so I honestly don’t know.”
On Sunday, Busch’s first blown tire came on Lap 53, causing him to hit the wall. His problems at the time were exacerbated by a speeding penalty on pit road. It happened again when he was running 10th on Lap 116, blowing another right front and hitting the Turn 2 wall again. The last wreck was too much for the team to overcome, and Busch’s day was over.
“Once I got single-file there after that last restart, I was just cruising,” Busch said. “I was just riding alon,g and the car felt fine. I don’t know why it kept getting tighter and why we were blowing right fronts.”
All that was left for Busch was to begin thinking about next week’s race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“Not a day we were hoping for,” he said. “We had a really fast car. We drove up from the back to the front a couple times and showed what we were made of, but obviously it doesn’t matter when you’re in the garage.”