Kurt Busch sinks in early Round of 8 hole after Kansas engine woes

Kurt Busch arrived at Kansas Speedway thinking this Round of 8 track was his ticket into the Championship 4.

Instead, Sunday’s Round of 8 opener saw Busch prematurely retire from the Hollywood Casino 400.

Internal mechanical issues hit the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team on Lap 193 of a scheduled 267. Busch reported his Chevrolet was losing power. A handful of laps later, the souring engine expired in a plume of smoke, and Busch drove to the garage after just 197 laps.

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“Hendrick engines have been bulletproof the last few years, and it’s a big surprise to all of us,” Busch said in a post-race Zoom video conference. “Nothing really showing a big indication of what went wrong. Maybe a valve and eventually the valve broke, and then once it broke, it just started rattling around and locked up a rod? Who knows. That’s all speculation.”

Busch’s name was listed 38th of 40 on the final results.

The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion entered 2020’s fourth-to-last race already eighth – last – in the playoff standings and 21 points below the cutline. Busch exited in the same spot, but his deficit increased to 73 points.

“When you start the Round of 8 against these guys who have all those points, all those stage points and points in the bank, we knew we needed to do something spectacular,” Busch said. “We just didn’t expect an engine failure.”

After firing off third, Busch was 19th at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 80 and then ninth at the conclusion of Stage 2 on Lap 160. The top-10 result in the second portion gave him two stage points. And it showed he could compete with the front-runners.

Until he literally couldn’t compete at all.

“It’s really weird,” Busch said. “Quality control is very high. The amount of attention to detail, that’s at an all-time high. I mean, I haven’t seen an engine failure in years. Whether it’s a Chevy or a Ford or a Toyota, everybody is spot-on. So, it’s one of those fluke things we have to get to the bottom of.”

And soon.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – another 1.5-mile oval. Busch has one win (2009) at Texas in 35 career starts. He placed eighth there earlier this season, creating a seven-race streak of top 10s. He averages a 14.1 finish.

That figure stands as not the worst — sixth among playoff drivers — but Busch needs to win.

Only two races remain before the Championship 4 is set for the Nov. 8 championship event at Phoenix Raceway. Busch’s last chance will be Martinsville Speedway in two weeks, but he and his team preferred the first two Round of 8 options.

“We couldn’t decide,” Busch said. “We had Kansas circled. We had Texas circled. Now we know it’s all about Texas, and we’re going in there with everything we’ve got.”