Kyle Busch is back to full-time competition in the Sprint Cup Series.
That was the hard part.
Busch suffered serious leg and foot injuries in a wreck during the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona in February. He was cleared by doctors to return in time for the May 16 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Now comes perhaps the even harder part – Busch must win at least one race and get into the top 30 of the Cup series standings to qualify for this season’s Chase.
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He is off to a strong start with an 11th-place finish in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is now 41st in the standings – and already ranked higher than three drivers who have more starts this season than he does.
“I’m probably most nervous of getting a race victory,” Busch said. “I know how hard it is to win these races in this series and how there’s no way that I’m not determined to get out there and win a race.
“It’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together and having a good night and being able to accomplish that feat.”
Busch said he feels reaching the top 30 in points is “relatively achievable.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be too hard. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t average better than a 16th-place finish,” he said. “Joe Gibbs Racing is better than that, my race team is better than that and I feel like I’m better than that.”
Busch showed no ill effects from Sunday’s 600-mile race, and at one point he was running as high as second in the second half of the race.
Assuming the top 30 is not as difficult as Busch believes, that still leaves a race victory to acquire.
With Carl Edwards’ win Sunday in the 600, all three of Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have won this season.
Also in Busch’s favor: JGR teams seem to have made some recent improvement on intermediate tracks like Charlotte, which make up the bulk of the series schedule.
Asked his thoughts on where a win may be most attainable, Busch went through a virtual laundry list of potential opportunities.
“We’ve looked at the schedule – I think it goes to say that for every year, Dover is always a really good place for us,” Busch said of Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
“If I can get Jimmie Johnson to speed on pit road again in the last 50 laps of the race, then I could probably win that thing. Dover has been pretty good for us, Indy has been good for us some years. Watkins Glen especially, and then Richmond.
“There’s a lot of races in between that we’re pretty confident we can run well at – we just have to.”
Busch’s two best tracks in the Cup series – Bristol, Tenn. (five wins), and Richmond, Va. (four) – remain on the schedule before the Chase begins.
Busch, however, would rather get the drama of obtaining the race win out of way as soon as possible.
“It’s good to be back in a race car for myself,” Busch said, “and hopefully we can get some strong runs and get ourselves in position to win and put all four JGR cars in the Chase.”