BRISTOL, Tenn. — Everything was set up for the killer finish.
The fans rose to their feet. Out front was youngster Chase Elliott, who’d led a total of three laps in NASCAR’s All-Star races before putting in a dominant performance in the second and third stages Wednesday night.
Right behind him was Kyle Busch, the defending Cup champion, the eight-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway, the oft-ornery competitor who once got into an altercation with a fan at this track while signing autographs.
A dozen laps to go. A million dollars at stake. Oh, baby! You know what happens next in this spot: a door-to-door finish, maybe a wreck, perhaps even a fight. Regardless, it promised to be another memorable clip for the Bristol highlight reel.
Nope. Busch couldn’t reel him in.
Killer finished denied.
At Elliott hopped out of his car to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans and fireworks exploding above the track, Busch once again was left frustrated in 2020.
“I think that’s four, five, six second places this year,” Busch said. “What do you do? You just keep going.”
Busch was correct with his first guess. This was his fourth runner-up finish so far this season, with the others coming at Fontana, Darlington and Atlanta. But forgive him if it feels like more than that for a driver who’s used to finding victory lane whenever he’s in the mix.
Busch hasn’t been terrible this year. Still, there’s been something just a tad off with the guy many consider the best pure wheelman of his generation.
He’s had five finishes outside the top 25 in 17 points races so far this season, including two of the past five. He had engine woes at the Daytona 500, finishing 34th, and has been trying to fight his way back toward the top of the standings ever since.
Busch still has a ways to go in that pursuit. As the Cup Series reaches the midway point of its season this weekend in Texas, he’s 11th in points — one spot behind his brother, Kurt. And he still hasn’t won a race, regardless of it’s been for points or, like Wednesday, a huge payday.
“We’re trying hard,” Busch said. “We’re running OK. It seemed like we were mired in 10th for much of that race tonight and then the last couple adjustments really helped us.”
Indeed, Busch wasn’t in contention for most of this event, but he began picking off the competition in the 35-lap penultimate stage. It was the kind of aggressive yet technical driving that once earned him four victories in a five-race span at this track.
But this time, Elliott was too good, and Busch wasn’t quite good enough. Busch tried the outside lane in an attempt to make up ground, but he couldn’t.
“It just wasn’t quite wide enough,” Busch said of the outside groove. “If it was a little bit wider and you could carry a little bit more speed with it, I might have had a chance.
“I had to do something different, so I just tried. I think we inched up a little bit closer on him, but that was about it.”
That was about it. And for a driver who’s won 56 Cup races, 97 Xfinity races and 58 trucks races, it was just another disappointing result in a season that’s had an unusual amount of them.
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