NASCAR Cup Series: Kurt Busch out of the playoffs?

Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

Is Kurt Busch at risk of missing the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after missing Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway with concussion-like symptoms?

For the first time since March 2015, Kurt Busch was absent from a NASCAR Cup Series race. In Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session for Sunday afternoon’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway, Busch advanced to the second round, but he crashed hard before he could compete his second run.

When the 43-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native experienced concussion-like symptoms on Sunday, it was decided that Ty Gibbs, who competes for Joe Gibbs Racing full-time in the Xfinity Series, would take his place behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota for Sunday’s 160-lap race around the three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Tricky Triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

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Gibbs finished in 16th place, but no points were scored for him or for Busch. Gibbs is ineligible for Cup Series points as a full-time Xfinity Series driver, and Busch didn’t score because he didn’t race.

Busch was granted a playoff waiver, but could his absence still end up costing him a playoff spot?

There has been a discussion all year about what happens if there are more than 16 different regular season race winners, as there are 16 playoff spots open regardless of how many winners there are, yet the playoff format is often referred to as a “win and in” format.

There have been 14 winners so far this year, and there are still five regular season races remaining, including two road course races and a superspeedway race, so the possibility of more new winners emerging is one that needs to be acknowledged.

All of the multi-race winners are safe, but the single-race winners will need to rely on points in the event that there are more than 16 winners prior to the playoffs.

The point totals among the single-race winners determine who earns the remaining open spots — and who gets left on the outside looking in.

After missing Sunday’s race, Busch, who won at Kansas Speedway back in mid-May to make the 2022 season his ninth straight winning season, is the lowest placed of the nine single-race winners in the point standings. He sits in 17th, two points behind the next lowest, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe.

Busch has averaged more points per start (24.25) than Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick (24.24), Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric (23.57), and Briscoe (23.19), who sit in 14th, 15th, and 16th place, respectively, so getting himself to a position where he is no longer the lowest is certainly possible. He trails Reddick by 24 points and Cindric by 10.

What will make that more difficult, however, is the fact that he is also set to miss this coming Sunday afternoon’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with Gibbs again set to fill in after Busch wasn’t medically cleared to compete.

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All the playoff waiver does is prevents his missed start or starts from counting against his playoff eligibility; he still needs to meet the playoff criteria to lock himself into the postseason for what would be a 10th consecutive season, and that could prove challenging if more new winners emerge. Just four regular season races remain on the schedule beyond this weekend, and there is still no telling when Busch might return.