NASCAR: Defending Champion Kyle Busch out of Cup Series Playoffs

Kyle Busch hoisted the trophy at the end of the 2019 Cup Series Playoffs and marked the second championship of his career. Nearly one year later, Busch is out of contention. The round of 12 came to an end with the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Busch ended up below the cutoff line.

The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry struggled frequently throughout the 2020 season, failing to win a single race for the first time since the 2004 season. Despite his struggles, Busch still reached the playoffs and moved on to the second round of three races. However, he needed a win at Las Vegas, Talladega or Charlotte in order to remain in contention. The pressure only increased after his brother, Kurt Busch, leapfrogged him with a victory at Las Vegas.

There were moments late in Sunday's race when it appeared that Busch would secure a stunning win and move to the round of eight. He held a lead with 20 laps remaining after remaining on the track during a caution while others headed to pit road en masse. However, the fresh tires and extra fuel gave the other drivers an advantage as Chase Elliott ultimately secured the victory.

"That's just been the year," Busch told reporters after Sunday's race. "Nothing's played out, been on our side. It's just been unfortunate circumstances, a lot of bad luck. The guys on this M&Ms team, they never give up and they fight all year long. Every race and every lap and every pit stop, as we can see. But man, it's just one of them off years. A terrible year for me, but as other sports greats would say, 'there's many drivers that would love to have the year we're having.'"

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Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola all joined Busch on the list of drivers officially eliminated from playoff contention. There are now only eight remaining in the hunt for the championship trophy. Kurt and Denny Hamlin locked up their spots with previous wins while Elliott booked his own trip with Sunday's victory. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman will now join them for three more races.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue with races in Kansas, Texas and Virginia. These three races will whittle the list down from eight drivers to only four. Those remaining will then face off at Phoenix in the championship race.