LAS VEGAS - A top-five comeback fit for a king Sunday night was ended by a driver Kyle Busch didn't think was worthy of sharing the racetrack with him.
After scraping the wall and falling two laps down because of a green flag stop on Lap 11, the playoff points leader nearly battled all the way back to salvaging a strong finish in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But Busch finished a lap down in 19th after running into Garrett Smithley, whose No. 52 Ford finished 12 laps down in 35th.
"I was told he was going to go high," Busch said in a postrace interview with Parker Kligerman on NBCSN (video above). "I thought he was going to go high. He went middle because I thought he was going to go high. Killed our day. I don't know. Should have run fourth probably. Instead 19th."
Smithley was making his 12th start in the Cup series. He has one top five in 133 starts across the Xfinity and truck series, and Busch questioned his credentials for running in NASCAR's premier series.
"We're at the top echelon of motorsports, and we've got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack," Busch said. "It's pathetic. They don't know where to go. What else do you do?"
Smithley told NASCAR.com's Zack Albert after the race that Busch has "never been in the position we've been in, so he doesn't know how that goes." Albert also talked with Joey Gase, whose 38th-place car (which was 18 laps down) also seemed to impede Busch in the closing laps.
Before speaking with Kligerman, Busch made a brief visit to a postrace media bullpen provided by NASCAR. The 2015 series champion tersely answered eight questions, capping it with a "I'm just here so I don't get fined" in a tribute to NFL star Marshawn Lynch (who happened to be the honorary pace car driver Sunday).
Busch, whose rebound came after taking a waveraound on a Lap 182 caution and then getting back on pit sequence because of a yellow on Lap 189, at least will carry a solid 36-point lead into Richmond Raceway, where he is the defending winner of the second race in the opening round of the playoffs.
By virtue of winning the regular-season title, Busch has a 45-point playoff margin (15 points more than teammate Denny Hamlin) that he will carry throughout the playoffs. It makes Busch a virtual cinch to advance, though he hardly found solace in that Sunday night.
"It's pathetic to have to lean on insurance," Busch said. "My premiums are going to go up."