NASCAR: Kyle Busch suffers earliest elimination for reigning champion

No reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion in the Championship 4 era had ever been eliminated before the round of 8 before Kyle Busch.

Kyle Busch’s five-win season in 2019 made him a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and it put him on a 15-year winning streak, just three shy of seven-time champion Richard Petty’s all-time record.

But the 2020 season has not gone according to plan for Busch in more ways than one.

Now 32 races into the 36-race season, the 35-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native has still not visited victory lane since his title-clinching performance at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.

He has finished in second place four times this year at Auto Club Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

But worst of all, for the first time since 2014, he will not be competing for a championship in the Championship 4.

In fact, he did not even survive the round of 12, and as a result, he became the first reigning champion ever to be eliminated prior to the round of 8.

The current playoff format was introduced in 2014, and Kevin Harvick won the championship that year. The following year, he returned to the Championship 4 and was beaten by Busch, who secured his first title.

In 2016, Busch returned to the Championship 4, but it was Jimmie Johnson who won the title ahead of Joey Logano in second place and Busch in third. Johnson became the first reigning champion not to return to the Championship 4, but he still managed to make it back to the round of 8 in 2017.

Martin Truex Jr. won the 2017 championship with Busch in second place. While he did not become the first repeat champion since Johnson won five titles in a row from 2006 through 2010, he did manage to make it back to the Championship 4 in 2018, when Joey Logano won the title ahead of him in second. Logano made it to the round of 8 in 2019.

This year’s round of 8 is slated to feature Harvick, Truex, Logano, 2004 champion Kurt Busch, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, and it is scheduled to begin this Sunday, October 18 at Kansas Speedway with the Hollywood Casino 400, which is set to be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.