INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Busch has the kind of trophy collection most NASCAR drivers would envy: monsters, lobsters, even wine.
He has visited victory lane 32 times in his Sprint Cup career — and with wins in the last two races and three of the last four, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is used to raising the ultimate prize over his head.
But in The Big Ones, the series’ marquee races where a victory stamps a driver for generations, Busch has gone home empty-handed.
0 for the Daytona 500
0 for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
0 for Indy.
Oh, how Busch wishes he could take the checkered flag just once in one of those races. He tries again Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where NASCAR’s hottest driver may have his best shot yet at planting a kiss on the famed Yard of Bricks.
“I would love to be able to have those checked off the list and to not be looking for just one victory, but two or three at some of these places,” Busch said Saturday. “Jeff (Gordon) is looking for (six) here at Indy at the Brickyard. That’s pretty remarkable. For me to just be looking for one, it’s a little disappointing that I’ve been around this long and haven’t won those races.”
Busch needs a win — or at least another top 10 — to continue his charge toward a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
He refused to let the thought of a title even dance in his head as he recovered from a gruesome injury suffered in the Xfinity Series race the day before the season-opening Daytona 500. Busch broke his right leg and left foot and missed the first 11 Cup races.
Busch isn’t where he needs to be in the standings quite yet. His three wins are certainly enough to land him in the Chase, but he is still outside the top 30 in points, which is the second major qualifier for competing for the title in the final 10 races of the season.
Busch won at Sonoma Raceway, and went back-to-back at Kentucky Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He is 33rd in the standings, 58 points behind David Gilliland for 30th.
He has seven races left to crack the top 30 before the Chase opens Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Victory lane sure beats a hospital bed.
“At first I was like, ‘I’m never going to race again and I don’t know what I’m going to do,'” Busch said. “All those things go through your mind. You just continue to power through and listen to your doctors and those that are around you. I wouldn’t call it painless, there was certainly a lot of pain, but it went really, really well as far as you could say any injury healing goes.”
Busch shaved an astounding 115 points off the deficit during the past four races and is not only a threat to qualify for the Chase — but to win it all in the No. 18 Toyota for JGR should he crack the 16-driver field.
“I feel like there’s an opportunity now to be able to completely kill the deficit, probably two races before the cutoff,” Busch said.
Even with the delayed start, Busch and first-year Cup crew chief Adam Stevens have found fast chemistry on Sundays. Stevens got the call in part due to his success with Busch in NASCAR’s second-tier series, where he called the shots for him the last two seasons.
“He’s been a great leader so far,” Busch said.
Stevens said after New Hampshire he thought the team could win the championship. It would be the first one of the series for Busch.
“I feel like we’ve shown that we have speed and we have solid cars,” Stevens said. “Since Kyle’s come back, maybe it’s put a little bit more speed in them.”
Busch may have offered a sneak preview on Saturday when he won the Xfinity Series race at Indy from the pole for his record 72nd series victory. He also announced his return to the Truck Series. Busch, who has won 42 times in the series, including seven times last year, will race next weekend at Pocono Raceway.
The comeback rolls on.
“In sports you do see stories like this where somebody is really hurt, then to be able to come back in this amount of time, it’s a special story,” Gibbs said.
Busch’s 32 victories in the Cup Series have come at 17 of the 23 race tracks. Indy isn’t one of them, though Busch has hardly been a bust here — he was the runner-up two of the last three years. He has five straight top 10s at Indy and eight overall dating to his first one in 2005.
“I’d love nothing more than to win some of these big races,” Busch said.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.