When the smoke cleared – literally – the playoff hopes for Stewart-Haas Racing’s two entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs took a major hit.
On the next to last lap of Stage 2 in Sunday’s ISM Connects 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Austin Dillon hit Kevin Harvick from behind off Turn 2, which sent Harvick spinning on the backstretch in a cloud of brake smoke.
The smoke blocked the view of Harvick’s SHR teammate, Kurt Busch, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and race leader Martin Truex Jr., who was coming around the corner as Harvick slowed.
Busch broadsided his teammate in the incident, which sent both drivers’ cars to the garage and out of the race.
Asked if he thought there was a reason from the contact from Dillon, Harvick said: “I don’t know. I know as I got sideways there I tried to get thing whoa’d down and pointed in the right direction and it snapped back the other way.
“I tried to lock it down and it was too far up across the race track. I knew I was probably worse off at that particular point, so once it turned back right and I was in trouble, I should have just tried to keep it left, but I couldn’t really tell where I was with all the smoke.”
Harvick and Busch’s cars got locked together and Harvick said he ripped reverse out of his No. 4 Ford trying to back out of the accident.
Busch seemed taken aback by how the incident unraveled.
“I mean, I don’t know what to say. It’s tough when you’re running where we were. We were just trying to limp it to the end of Stage 2 and I heard, ‘Car spinning off of 2’ in my ear,” he said. “I saw smoke up ahead.
“A lot of times they’ll come back up, and I tried to leave the high side or the low side and then – boom – as soon as the smoke cleared I’m looking at Harvick’s door, my teammate. We’re both running in the playoffs.”
Harvick was in a much better position to withstand a bad day at New Hampshire than Busch. Harvick finished third in last weekend’s playoff opener at Chicagoland and was ranked third in the standings going into Sunday’s race.
Busch finished 19th last week at Chicagoland and was already among the bottom four in points among the 12 playoff drivers. The lowest four in points without a win are eliminated from title contention following next weekend’s race at Dover, Del.
The circumstances were readily apparent to Busch.
“It’s all-in. We’ll go (to Dover) with everything we’ve got like we have been,” he said. “We’ve got to find the set-up that will make that car cut, that will make it go through the center of the corner and carry that speed on exit and give it our best.”
Harvick was credited with a 36th-place finish and Busch a 37th-place finish.
Kyle Busch talks about how close he was to getting involved in the incident: