CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Less than three months after suffering serious injuries when he crashed into a concrete wall at Daytona, Kyle Busch will return to racing in NASCAR’s All-Star race this weekend following a rapid recovery his doctors called remarkable.
Busch will run in Saturday night’s event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He has been sidelined since a Feb. 21 crash in the Xfinity Series opener in which he broke his right leg and left foot in an accident that spurred safety reviews throughout NASCAR.
“I don’t know that anybody would have expected the All-Star Race would have been a place for me to come back when we were laying down in the hospital bed in Daytona and even in Charlotte just days after the accident,” Busch said Tuesday, noting that specialist Dr. Robert Anderson of OrthoCarolina was surprised at the fast recovery. “One of the things I remember hearing from Dr. Anderson … was that it’s just been a remarkable timeframe in which I’ve been able to make as much progress as I have, as quickly as I have.”
Busch credited therapy sessions that sometimes spanned six hours for being able to heal ahead of schedule. His accident late in the race one day before the Daytona 500, left him with a rod in his right leg and plates and screws in his left foot.
He missed 11 races because of his injuries, which were more severe because he hit a wall that lacked an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier at 90 mph. Busch has said his car left the racing surface and headed toward the wall at 176 mph, and even though he was able to slow it, he knew the impact was likely going to break one leg.
Although Busch removed his right foot from the brake pedal, the impact with the wall was so hard, both his helmet and chest slammed into his steering wheel. Busch said the throttle stop was pushed back closer to him and smacked his right leg, breaking it.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing was driven by Matt Crafton at Daytona, then David Ragan for nine events and 18-year-old Erik Jones drove it Saturday night at Kansas.
There was speculation that Busch was close to returning when Jones said two weeks ago JGR officials had only discussed the Kansas race with the development driver. Gibbs confirmed Busch had tested a late model car, suggesting he would be back for the two Charlotte race weeks.
The Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, runs May 24 and the All-Star race is the perfect warmup event. At just 110 scheduled laps split into segments, Busch felt the pace would be right for his return.
“It’s shorter. It’s a non-points event. There’s mandatory cautions after every 25 laps … it gives you an opportunity to take a breather, take a rest,” Busch said. “That will allow me to make adjustments to myself as well as being behind the wheel of the 2015 Camry for the first time because I haven’t had an opportunity to race at all in this aero package.”
Busch initially announced his return on social media, tweeting “I’m back. #RowdyReturns” early Tuesday along with a 24-second video of him in his fire suit, pulling down the visor of his helmet. He said he requested and received approval from NASCAR to return on Monday.
During his time away, he learned there’s more to life than just racing. Busch, who turned 30 this month, is expecting his first child, a boy. Wife Samantha Busch is due May 22, right amid preparations for the Coca-Cola 600.
His time away from racing — the longest stretch he’s not been in a car since he started his career as a youngster in Las Vegas — gave him extended time with his wife as they prepared for their growing family.
Busch said he intends to be present for the birth of his son, so he’ll have Jones on standby the next two weeks. Although Jones will be able to assist if Busch has any health difficulties, he doesn’t anticipate getting out of the car.
With a new appreciation for a life outside the race car, Busch is still itching to get back to the track and resume the one thing he missed most.
“The biggest thing I missed is being able to hold up trophies, being in victory lane,” Busch said.
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