NASCAR at Bristol: Crash in final practice knocks Kurt Busch off front row

Kurt Busch will start Sunday's race in the rear of the field rather than second after wrecking late in Saturday's final practice.

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kurt Busch was a mere two one-thousandths of a second behind Kyle Busch in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway.

On Saturday, however, a wall came between the brothers, who no longer will start side by side on the front row for Sunday’s Food City 500 (1 p.m. ET, Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Up until the final 10 minutes of final practice, the weekend had gone nearly perfectly for Kurt Busch, who was set to be part of a 1-2 start with his pole-winning brother for the third time. Then, suddenly, it all fell apart.

Busch was fourth-fastest in Happy Hour, but on his 70th lap of the session, his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford lost traction in Turn 2, spun sideways, slid down the backstretch and nosed into the inside SAFER barrier near the entrance to Turn 3.

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With damage too severe to repair, Busch will be forced to start Sunday’s race in a backup car. That also means dropping to the rear of the field before the green flag.

“Sorry, guys,” Busch said on his radio after the wreck. “I was just trying to get everything.”

After exiting the car, Busch provided a post-mortem.

“I had 45 laps on the tires and was trying to get to 50," Busch said. “The setup changes dramatically with air-pressure builds and the VHT (traction compound) changing, so I was just trying to do as much research as I could.

“The lap times were really good in the car and then, boom, there’s just no forgiveness right now with how many variables there are.”

Crew chief Billy Scott was busy harvesting items to transfer from the primary car to the backup.

“The (backup) car will be just as good,” Scott said. “We’ve just got to sort out all the parts and pieces to put on it.”

Kurt Busch’s wreck wasn’t the only issue for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick, who had to go to a backup car after crashing in opening practice on Friday, struggled through two practice sessions on Saturday, running 16th in the morning and 24th in Happy Hour.

SHR teammate Clint Bowyer tangled with the No. 6 Ford of Trevor Bayne with roughly 10 minutes left in final practice, damaging the left front of his No. 14 Ford, but not severely enough to require a backup car.

In cooler temperatures on Saturday morning, Kyle Larson led the day’s first practice session at 129.004 mph, which exceeded Kyle Busch’s pole-winning speed of 128.822 mph from Friday afternoon.

Larson then spent most of final practice trying to rubber-in the top lane, where he prefers to run. Martin Truex Jr., who qualified 26th, was second fastest in Saturday’s first practice at 128.952 mph.

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David Ragan paced final practice at 127.487 mph, followed by Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Reid Spencer writes for the NASCAR Wire Service.