Kyle Busch’s up-and-down NASCAR season down again

Safety crews extinguish the fire in Kyle Busch’s car in the garage at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
Safety crews extinguish the fire in Kyle Busch’s car in the garage at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. AP

A month ago, Kyle Busch was dreaming lofty dreams, even wondering if he could complete a sweep of the tracks on NASCAR’s Cup circuit.

Now, Busch is just trying to stay competitive.

The engine in Busch’s No. 18 Toyota blew on the 52nd lap of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, dooming Busch to a 40th – and last – place finish.

It was the third time in the last four races that Busch posted a “DNF” – did not finish. The fourth was a 31st-place finish last week at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

It’s all a bit perplexing for Busch, the 2015 Cup champion who has three victories this up-and-down season. When Busch hasn’t won or finished in the top-five (nine times), he’s been 25th or worse (six times).

“There’s nothing you can do to change it around, you’re not going to go to the luck store and buy any,” Busch said. “We had a lot of good fortune go our way at the beginning part of the season, I guess. We still had blown tires that hurt us, but we’re either top-four or we’re bottom four. There is no absolute in between for us.”

When he won at Kansas in May, that left Charlotte and Pocono as the only tracks on the Cup’s current circuit where he hasn’t won. But he followed Kansas with accidents at Dover and Charlotte, then the 31st at Pocono.

There’s no chance Busch won’t make the Chase, and there are certainly some things he and crew chief Adam Stevens are trying in these races that might work in the postseason.

But Busch said he didn’t know why the engine blew Sunday. Fire was briefly seen coming from his car’s hood -- he described it as a “fireball” on his radio. The car dropped oil and hit the wall in Turn 3.

“At least I had a 30-lap warning that it was coming,” Busch said. “It had been shaking pretty bad and going south for a while and it had been building its own heat.

“It’s unfortunate, not just today, but man the last four races have been really, really bad. It’s a good thing we started off the season as good as we did with a lot of top-fives and we had three wins so it got us a good start and a good foundation. But we have to get this luck turned around and get going in the right direction and get ourselves back to where we feel we need to be.”

Now, after a week off, it’s off to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where Busch won in 2015.