By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the first elimination race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, marking the end of the road for four drivers and their championship aspirations.
Several drivers entered the night within striking distance of the top-12 in points, but when Saturday night’s wild outing in Thunder Valley ended, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, and Kevin Harvick were the unlucky drivers to be on the outside looking in.
For all four, it would be a combination of mechanical issues, on-track incidents, and just plain ol’ bad luck that would be their downfall at the end of the night.
Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Reddick entered Bristol with a points advantage of just two points and though he didn’t have the outright speed he has shown at other races this season, was holding his own as the race progressed, but a crash on lap 278 changed everything.
The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet would be among the 12 cars involved in the pileup on the backstretch, sustaining heavy damage that would force extended repairs to get the car back in the race.
Though he returned to the race afterwards, Reddick could only log laps until the end of the race, hoping for more attrition to work in his favor, but he would finish in 25th place, 31 laps down.
“Frustrating for sure,” Reddick said. “We just — I don’t know, we thought qualifying was better for us in our Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevy, but we didn’t quite have the pace or the balance really to make our car better, and unfortunately the balance issues we were fighting, we were pretty much limited.
We couldn’t really adjust on it without hurting downforce of the car overall, so we were kind of boxed in. Then we just kind of got collected in that accident back there. I checked up in time, but yeah, I got absolutely ran over from there. Caught the right front and broke the upper control arm for the second week in a row.
Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch would also finish just two points out of being able to transfer on, marking the earliest exit ever for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota as three bad races in the first round of the Playoffs would be his ultimate downfall.
An engine failure at Darlington, followed by a 26th place finish at Kansas left Busch two points below the cutoff line coming into Bristol, where he had won eight times previously, including back in the spring on the dirt.
However, Busch wouldn’t be in position to add a ninth Bristol win to his resume, as another engine failure on lap 269 ended his hopes of bringing Joe Gibbs Racing one more championship before leaving for Richard Childress Racing in 2023.
Even after retiring from the race, it looked as if Busch might be able to squeak in, but in the final run to the finish, the points standings shifted just enough to knock him out of the top-12, leaving him right where he started the night – two points out.
“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low – down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through.
“Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you. I really feel bad for all of Rowdy Nation, everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Rowdy Energy, all of the partners that get us going every week. This is not our normal.”
Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
The lap 278 crash that derailed Tyler Reddick’s Playoff hopes would do a two-fer for the Richard Childress Racing stable as Austin Dillon was also involved in the multi-car crash.
While Reddick was able to return to the race, Dillon was not as lucky and would be forced to retire from the event after not getting his car repaired within the time allotted by the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
Finishing the race in 31st, Dillon’s Cinderella story in the Playoffs would be over with just three races in.
“We were doing our job there. We had a pretty good Bass Pro Shops Chevy. I haven’t seen the replay, but I heard Daniel (Suarez) just wrecked the 47 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and caused the big one. It’s part of it.
“Wish we would have been in a little better spot. Just broke the suspension in the left-front. We had gotten stage points and really, we had a pretty good race car. I was feeling pretty good about it. We just needed to miss that one.”
Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
If it wasn’t for bad luck, Kevin Harvick would have no luck at all.
After a late surge in the regular season to make the Playoffs with back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond, the first two races of the postseason have not been kind to the 2014 Cup champion.
A fire at Darlington and a crash early in the going at Kansas left Harvick 35 points out, making Bristol a must-win race for the No. 4 team.
Harvick came into Saturday night as a man on a mission and showed that he was a threat for the win throughout the race, but on the final round of pit stops, everything went awry.
A miscue by his pit crew would cause the left-rear tire to fall off the car as he left the pit box. After backing back into his pit box to get the wheel put back on, Harvick dropped to 10th in the running order for the final restart with a little over 50 laps to go.
Unfortunately, Harvick would be unable to advance any further and finished the race in 10th – a far cry from the win he needed to advance.
“It just kind of goes with the whole year,” Harvick said. “Nothing has gone right, really. The wheels literally fell off tonight.
“It was pretty tough. We pitted in front of the 17, so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass. Parted it way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”