Kyle Busch may no longer feel invincible, but that doesn’t mean his desire to race has at all diminished.
In fact, it’s that desire that fueled Busch’s relatively quick recovery from a broken leg and foot, allowing him to enter Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The race, which pays $1 million to the winner, will be his first competitive racing event since the injuries he received in the Feb. 21 Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Late in the race, Busch spun and his car hit nose-first into a retaining wall not covered by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers. He missed the Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series opener and every race since.
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“I’ve never lost any of my ambition of wanting to go back or be just as successful as I was before. That’s all still right here,” Busch said Tuesday.
“That’s actually why we’re trying to get back in for the All-Star Race, then we’re going to go and run the rest of the year, see if the success can’t continue like it had before the crash.”
Busch received his medical clearance to race Monday after what his doctors called a “remarkable recovery” aided by his dedication to the physical therapy needed to heal.
He suffered a compound fracture of his right leg and mid-foot fracture of his left foot, both of which required surgery. In his first public appearance on April 15 at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch said he likely would need another surgery after the season to remove a plate and screws from his left foot.
The accident came at a difficult time for Busch – the 2015 Cup season hadn’t even begun and he and his wife, Samantha, are expecting their first child.
Busch, 30, believes he both lost and gained from the experience.
“I definitely believe it’s added some growth to me,” he said. “Beforehand every race car driver thinks they’re invincible. In this regard certainly, it took that away. It shows you maybe there’s a bigger picture going on to life than just driving race cars.
“There’s no doubt, though, I ever thought about (not) getting back in, being able to go back to victory lane and win championships.”
In the weeks and months since Busch’s accident, several speedways – with NASCAR’s encouragement – have undertaken reviews and added additional tire or SAFER barrier to exposed concrete walls.
“I don’t know why it would have taken my crash for them to review it as in-depth as they’ve shown lately,” Busch said when asked if his injury was the “tipping point” to jump-starting additional safety measures.
“It’s unfortunate there’s as much coming after crashes than there is beforehand. But it has been encouraging to see the response that we’ve gotten from my crash, that they’ve been adding things and doing things in the right regard as far as safety around the race track goes.”
Because of NASCAR’s no private testing policy, the only track time Busch has seen in preparation for his return to competition has been testing a late model car. He worked on braking, using the clutch, getting on and off pit road and other simulated race conditions.
He admits there are some aspects of his return that he simply will not be able to appreciate fully until he is behind the wheel of his No. 18 Toyota racing around other competitors.
“Since I started my driving career back when I was 13 years old, I’ve never been out of the driver’s seat for this long,” he said. “There may be some things that I got to get back to becoming accustomed to again.”
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Busch broke the news of his return first on his Twitter feed, which included a short video of him donning his driver’s suit.
Other drivers posted messages on Twitter welcoming Busch back.