As Kyle Busch took the podium Friday in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media room, the first words from reporters weren’t in the form a question.
Instead, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota was greeted with two words: Welcome back.
In his first NASCAR action since breaking his right leg and left foot in the Xfinity Series opener Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway, Busch returned to the driver’s seat in full force in the lone practice for Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race – posting the day’s top speed, 188.884 mph.
“It felt really good,” Busch said. “I was obviously optimistic about coming back and getting some laps in here. I was excited to get back in and see my guys and just kind of get the taste of all of that again.”
Busch’s return comes at a busy time for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Along with this weekend’s All-Star events, he and his wife, Samantha, are expecting their first child in the coming days.
Friday also marked the first time Busch was able to drive a Sprint Cup car under the 2015 rules package. He said adjusting to the changes proved to be his most difficult hurdle.
“These race cars have been changing quite constantly with setups and things like that,” Busch said. “Just trying to get a feel for what all was going on there for what I had to drive.”
After missing the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup season while rehabbing, Busch announced Tuesday he’d been cleared to participate in Saturday’s race, which pays $1 million to the winner.
NASCAR issued a waiver Wednesday that made Busch eligible to compete for a spot in the Chase. He will need to win a race and finish the regular season in the top 30 in points in order to qualify.
“I think it’s great,” said Busch about NASCAR’s decision. “It gives us a legitimate chance to try to qualify for the Chase and to be able to race for a championship. That’s all you can ask for.”
Busch said he has received support from other drivers regarding the waiver. For Kasey Kahne, who texted Busch as soon as he heard the news, Busch’s return only adds to the buzz surrounding this weekend.
“He’s a big part of the Sprint Cup Series, in my opinion,” Kahne said. “There are so many fans that enjoy watching him, and I know racing with him and just seeing him out on the race track, it’s better when he’s there.
“I’m glad that he’s back out here.”