NASCAR: Recent points leader drops out of the playoff picture

If the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs started today, two-time champion Kyle Busch would be on the outside looking in for the first time since 2012.
Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR
Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

Fortunately for Kyle Busch, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs do not start today. But this past Sunday afternoon's race at Texas Motor Speedway marked the one-third point of the regular season, and with nine of 26 races in the books, the driver of Richard Childress Racing's No. 8 Chevrolet finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.

After opening up the season with finishes of 12th place in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and third in a photo finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway the following weekend, Busch was the points leader. But his only top 15 finishes in seven races since then are a pair of ninth place efforts, and he has finished 20th or worse on four occasions.

Busch is tied for 15th place in the point standings with Team Penske's Joey Logano, but the driver in 18th place, Trackhouse Racing Team's Daniel Suarez, is ahead of both in the playoff picture thanks to his win at Atlanta, effectively dropping Busch and Logano into a tie for 16th.

Because Logano's top finish of second place at Richmond Raceway is better than Busch's top finish of third at Atlanta, it is Logano who currently holds the 16th and final playoff spot.

Was a rough season inevitable for Kyle Busch?

There are still 17 races left on the regular season schedule, so we're not going to write off a two-time champion whose career win total ranks in the top nine on the all-time list. But Busch's last few seasons made him one of the primary playoff regulars at risk entering the 2024 season.

Since winning his second title in 2019 to cap off a fifth consecutive trip to the Championship 4, Busch has not been back to the winner-take-all championship round. It took him until the 2020 season's 34th race to keep his now-record win streak alive by finding victory lane, at which point he was already eliminated. He got back to the round of 8 in 2021 with a two-win season.

In 2022, he only made the playoffs thanks to being at the right place at the right time in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Running third on the final lap, he took the lead when the leaders tangled. If not for that win, his point total would not have been even close to good enough to getting him into the postseason, given how many other winners there were.

After failing to advance out of the opening round, he finished the season in 13th place in the standings, his worst since he last missed the playoffs entirely under the old format in 2012.

Busch ended his 15-year partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota and joined Richard Childress Racing, reuniting himself with Chevrolet, in 2023. He won his second race at Auto Club Speedway and immediately became the betting favorite to win the championship. He added two more wins by early June.

But the second half of the season was a disaster for Busch and the No. 8 team, and he ultimately had to settle for his worst points finish since his 2005 rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports.

The 2024 season hasn't given any sort of an indication that Richard Childress Racing are trending in the right direction. Busch's teammate, Austin Dillon, sits in 28th place in the point standings with just two top 20 finishes himself.

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Can Busch turn things around after dropping out of the provisional playoff picture, or will his 11-year playoff streak be brought to an end in 2024? The season's 10th race is a race he won last year at Talladega Superspeedway. The GEICO 500 is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, April 21. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss it!