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“We expect to make the Chase, we expect to be in a fight, fists swinging, body panels crunched, paint flying and make the Chase,” Garone said. “And if we don’t do that, we are going to step back, take a deep breath, and say `let’s go win a race’ because we would be disappointed based on where we are sitting right now.”

But things took a disastrous turn at Bristol, where the night turned sour less than 100 laps into the race.

Busch passed Denny Hamlin for the lead shortly after the race began, but developed a vibration on his Chevrolet after leading 54 laps. He dropped to fifth, headed to pit road for a repair, but was stymied by both a slow stop and a speeding penalty. He had to pit again, dropping him three laps and into 39th place, and contact with Josh Wise caused damage to his car that sent him back to pit road.

He told his crew that the vibration hadn’t been corrected the first time, and crew chief Todd Berrier called him into the garage for a lengthy repair.

He asked over his radio if he’d done something to create the problems on the car and Berrier assured him it was just a faulty part. Busch then tried to lift the crew’s spirits: “We ain’t done. We ain’t done yet,” he radioed.

Indeed, he returned to the track in 41st place, 26 laps behind the leader.