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Kyle Busch Talks About His Wreck And Future

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 15 2015
Rescue personnel surround the site where Kyle Busch was injured at Daytona International Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tom Copeland)

Rescue personnel surround the site where Kyle Busch was injured at Daytona International Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tom Copeland)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

During the season-opening NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in February, the car driven by Kyle Busch left the track, blew through the infield grass and smashed hard into an unprotected concrete wall.

Busch was helped from the car by safety personnel but it was obvious from the agony on the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s face that he had suffered a serious injury.

Busch was transported to a nearby hospital.

It was announced soon afterward that he had broken his right leg and left foot.

His injury has resulted in Busch missing all races since.

On Wednesday, Busch met with the media for the first time since the wreck to talk about the wreck and answer questions.

He started the press conference by thanking his wife Samantha, his team, his sponsors, his friends, his family and fans who have produced an outpouring of sympathy.

He also showed a video of the crash and commented on what was going on.

Busch said he will return to racing this year, perhaps by the summer race at Daytona, but that there is no strict timetable concerning his return.

Busch said the wreck was totally his fault.

What follows is an edited transcript of the press conference:

Kyle Busch: “Obviously, that was a whale of a hit. It’s the hardest that I’ve ever had in NASCAR competition. As I go back here and I replay it, just a little bit just to give you my thoughts and my process. I’ll go back to the beginning. My initial plan was to push Erik Jones and I had been pushing (Darrell) Bubba Wallace there early in the race. We’d been making the top line work through much of it. My thought process was, ‘Okay, I see a gap between the 16 car (Ryan Reed) and the 42 car (Kyle Larson)’ and I thought I could push Erik and Erik would probably go through that gap and we’d be able to shoot up through the middle. As I started pushing him, you can actually see it right here [displays on video]. So, as I start pushing him, he kind of goes up towards the middle and I’m thinking we’re going, but I’m too far left off set of him, so I actually turn him sideways. That’s what gets him spinning. As he’s spinning, I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re wrecking,’ so I have to move to the middle. My thought is, ‘Jump to the middle as quick as you can,’ so that’s what I do right here. Then he turns sideways coming back across the race track. I’m like, ‘Uh, I hope I can make it through this gap before it closes up,’ so I get close to the 42 and as I get close to the 42 and I miss the 20 (Erik Jones), there was no contact between the 42 with me or the 20 with me and right there I’m like, ‘Good, I’m through. That was close,’ but as you see my car just continues to spin. Right about here is actually where Erik Jones’ air that is going between our cars and his nose to my left rear quarter panel actually pushes my car crooked. It actually starts to turn it sideways, the air and so it puts me into a spin, which then spins me across the infield.

“I thought I could save it this whole time while I’m crooked. I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I can save this. It’s just going to tank-slap back to the left and I’ll probably just slide,’ but it never did. The car actually just kept spinning the entire time. I’ll go back to this view. When it spins off the race track here, you can see my tire marks kind of at the bottom of the screen right underneath where the play button is, it goes off and I finally locked it down and so I was one foot down braking and I was locking it down. As I’m sliding, probably where I’m at on the video, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Okay, the car needs to turn, it needs to get sideways.’ It needs to rudder essentially, but it never did. There’s another video that shows it was just air that spun me sideways. As I’m spinning here, you can see the left front tires locked up. I’m thinking to myself, ‘It’s not ruddering,’ so I tell myself to let off the brake and see if I can get the wheels to spin to try to get the thing to go back. You’ll see the brake smoke stops on the left front and you can see the tire marks kind of stop, also There’s no real tire marks on the asphalt. It’s still not ruddering, so I’m thinking to myself, ‘It’s not slowing down. It’s not ruddering. Oh no it’s not slowing down,’ so I’m like I have to get back to the brakes. So right here is where I let go of the brakes to see if I can get it to rudder and then obviously to here, I was off the brakes just trying to get the thing to go in some sort of direction. It never moved. It wouldn’t go anywhere.

“This is where I go back to the brakes and I think to myself, ‘I’m bracing for the hit now,’ so I put both feet on the brake in order to position myself for the crash. When I do that, I think to myself again, ‘Why would I want to break both legs or feet?’ I have both feet on the pedal, that’s stupid so I take the right foot back off the brake pedal but kept my left foot on. As I continue going here, obviously now I’m bracing for the hit, but I’m telling myself, ‘Oh no it’s not slowing down. This is going to hurt.’ So I’m telling myself all that and then I’m also saying, ‘Pull your legs back. When you get close enough to the wall. Pull your legs back,’ but sometimes your mind doesn’t overpower your physical abilities. I’m telling myself to do that, but once I hit the grass that was brace mode. That was when I tucked down, I put my hands in tight and I braced. I just braced for the hit and totally forgot about my legs. I left my left foot on the brake pedal and my right foot was kind of floating. I think it was obviously right next to the gas pedal.

“When it hit, I left the racing surface back at the yellow line back at 176 miles per hour and I hit the wall at 90, so the impact was 90 miles per hour and it was 90 Gs. Obviously, it was a huge hit and as soon as it hit, I was awake the whole time, but there was a moment when everything compressed back and I pressed forward – I came through the seat into the seatbelts, into the restraints, all the air in my body escaped. Like I was just [large gasp]. It was pushed out. Like you’re trying to hold tight, you’re trying to hold it. It was just pushed out and there is a mark on my helmet – my helmet hit the steering wheel, my chest hit the steering wheel – and when everything from in front of me, the engine, all the chassis works, everything came back to me, as it came back to me, I went forward. The engine hit the one-by-two piece of tubing in the chassis, which then hit the gas pedal and then hit the throttle-stop, which then forced the throttle-stop back towards me three inches farther than what it would normally be at zero percent throttle. When it came back to me and I went to it, just the pure smack of my right leg, that’s what broke my right leg. Obviously, being in a car accident with your left foot being on the brake pedal, that’s what broke my mid foot, my foot being on the brake. As soon as the wreck happened, as soon as I hit, I knew instantly that my right leg broke, I could feel it. It was a sharp pain. It wasn’t like – even after the car came to a stop and the crash was over and I was just sitting there – at first I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to sit here for a minute and take a breath,’ but a flash fire came through the air box and I was like, ‘Nope, never mind, I have to get out.’

“I was like how is this going to work, me getting out of the car, so I pulled the steering wheel off, pulled my belts off and I knew my right leg was broke, so I pushed with my left foot to see if I could get out with my left foot. Nope, I couldn’t push with my left foot because it was instant pain, sharp pain. So I said, ‘Okay, push with the heel,’ so I pushed with the heel, pushed with my left heel and my left heel was fine. I grabbed the roll bars that I normally grab when I get out and pushed with my left foot and I knew if I could just get to the door hopefully the wreckers would be there, the safety crews would be there in time in order to help me get out and pull me out. I knew to get to the door. That’s what I did. You’ll see me getting out and I was just trying to get to the door. So when I get to the door, I just sit there. The guy was going to help me back up, but I’m like nope, we’re not doing that. I had to flip my visor up and talk to him. So I flip my visor open and I turn to him and tell him my right leg is broke and my left foot is broke. I don’t know if he couldn’t hear or if he was shocked, but I told him four times over again so he could hear me. A couple of the guys grabbed me and got me out and when they got me to the ground, obviously I felt somewhat safe at least and ready to go on my ambulance ride.”

“From the beginning, the wreck was essentially all my fault. I was being greedy and trying to win the race and push Erik Jones and get ourselves to the front so he and I could try to decide the race between ourselves as JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) compadres. It didn’t quite work out that way and obviously I injured myself in the process. Just a freak deal – nature of the beast I guess you’d say.

“Past that, one other note of interest if you watch Elliott Sadler’s car, you can see him kind of going at the same pace, at the same plane as my car did. You can see both of us now, but fortunately he had Brendan Gaughan come into him and hit him which just spun him around and kept him from getting the inside wall. If I could have had another car hit me, obviously I feel like I would have been in a safer position and maybe not get into it. It is what it is and the nature of the beast. That’s sort of my story and what all happened in my crash. Of course I can answer any further of your questions.

“Now for my announcement, what we’re all here for. I’ve given this a lot of thought, Samantha and I have talked about it. With a lot of hard work and help from friends and probably a lot of crispy M&M’s, powered by Interstate Batteries and a body with Toyota on it, I now plan to pursue a career in professional RC racing. I think that will be my best bet of staying safe. No, I’m just kidding. Truthfully I’ll be back. That was just something to throw in there at the end.”

Are you able to recollect the entire incident?

“That was probably at least 10-15 minutes. Truthfully the accident happened and I had a couple visitors in the hospital right after the Daytona 500, people came by and asked me if I remembered what happened or what did happen and I told them that exact story without even having to review the film. Obviously, Samantha was there – she could testify to that. I was awake the whole time. I knew exactly what I needed to do or what I needed to try to do. I can’t speak for other drivers, but in my instances with crashes that I’ve had before, you’re never done driving until you’re stopped in my opinion. You can always try to do something. In my instance, the only thing I did forget to do, and it might be weird to say this, is downshift. If I could have downshifted to third or even second gear, I might have gotten the car to wheel hop and actually spin and maybe back in or hit some other way than head on and maybe I could have saved myself. Now thinking back on it, that was after sitting thinking about it for a week or so about what else could I have done that you’ll keep in your mind for times going forward.”

Would you change the way your race based on this accident?

“I’ve been in a lot of wrecks before, the Talladega truck crash years ago that rung my bell a little bit and I also had the Daytona XFINITY Series crash back in 2012 – that was probably the second hardest hit to date that I’ve had – but as far as racing any differently, when you’re racing for wins, especially at restrictor plates, it’s so circumstantial. Anything can always happen and that’s why you see sometimes guys riding around in the back. You just don’t want to get caught up in those situations. To be honest with you, it’s fate. That’s what takes you. It doesn’t have to do so much with pure skill, it just has to do with luck and where the good lord will take you.”

How are you feeling?

“As far as my health and how I’m doing, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling okay. Day-by-day. It was month-by-month, then it was week-by-week and I guess I should say it is still week-by-week – can’t get too far ahead of myself. The doctors won’t let me. It’s coming along well. I’m working out every day. I’m in the gym and I’m trying to do things best I can.”

What did you learn when you visited the NASCAR R&D Center?

“I had seen cars wreck and I had seen some pretty bad crashes – we all have – and you’ve seen a lot of cars destroyed, whatever you want to say. As far as the compression of the race car, I felt like there was a lot there, and a lot to learn for myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, for our engineers here, but also the engineers at NASCAR, to learn and understand. I know they’re kind of thankful that I was actually able to get out under my own power and they didn’t cut the car so they could actually take it back and review it more and more and really do a diagnostic on it. They still are. They’re still working through it as we speak. I feel like when I saw the wreck, it probably was worse than I expected it to be when I looked at it. Now seeing it and looking at it and understanding what happened in the cockpit – I didn’t sit there when I was in the car and getting out of the car, ‘Man, look at that, holy smokes.’ I had a few other things on my mind at that time. When I got back to go to the NASCAR R&D Center, obviously that was when I had a good chance to see what it looked like and to see how much safety innovations NASCAR has come up with over the years to keep me here today. I’m alive today just because the fact that the restraints worked, the seat worked, the HANs device worked – everything worked. It was just the pure foot cockpit of the area that obviously injured me. I can’t say enough about NASCAR and their innovations. From knees up, no problem, not a mark on me, not a bruise, not a headache, not a neck ache, nothing – it was all great. It was just a matter of your flailing feet when you’re in a wreck like that.”

What do you need to do to get back in the car and compete for wins?

“First and foremost, I have to please my doctors. I have to go step-by-step and do everything they ask and so far I’ve tried to do that. Although maybe a couple times I’ve done something I wasn’t supposed to do, but it’s all been so far, so good. Such as getting up and walking too soon, standing too soon, standing without boots and everything else. It’s been good – they’ve been very helpful. The doctors down at Halifax (Medical Center) were awesome. The hospital was amazing. The staff was really good to us there. Then getting back to Charlotte same thing and working with Dr. Anderson on my foot obviously and having him do the surgery there, everything has been going really well. They say my recovery is going faster than they expected, but I’ve even asked – they won’t release a timetable – I’m not lying to you. They’re like, ‘Now you’re released to stand up in both boots. Now you’re released to walk. Now you’re released to walk without a boot on your right.’ It’s week-by-week and it’s what I can show them and what I can do and what my physical therapist says I’m capable of. As far as a timetable, that’s still not set yet for me to get back. As long as my strength continues to improve and I can continue to show the doctor and the NASCAR folks that I’m able to do the things necessary for me to get back in the race car, then that time will be determined as I get better.”

Can you get into the race car by Daytona in July?

“As far as if it can be by Dayton in July, I would presume so. Again I’m not going to say I will be. The reason why we all don’t want to give a timetable is because if I do something wrong and I reinjure myself, we don’t want to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll be back by Daytona,’ and then I do something stupid and it puts me back to until Chase time. It just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t push myself any faster than what natural healing is. Natural healing has been around for as long as I know, for about 3,000 years, so it’s certainly the timetable given to us by our own bodies and everyone is different.”

What has been your reaction to the tracks who are adding additional SAFER barrier following your Daytona crash?

“Obviously, with the reaction to everything – I’m not going to say I’m happy about what I hit not being protected. I can’t – that’s just not being honest. I was disappointed that the wall wasn’t covered, but I am encouraged by the acts that the race tracks have taken and the steps they’ve taken in order to get things going and in the right direction for driver safety. We work for the fans. Obviously, the fans are what drives this sport and we do everything possible for them as well as our sponsors and everyone involved in the business. Driver safety needs to be one of those items at the top of the list. I think most of us would agree to that. With being able to get tire barriers up or SAFER barriers up, in the right circumstances – if there’s a wall that needs a tire barrier, put a tire barrier there. If it needs a SAFER barrier, put a SAFER barrier there. But, it can’t be constructed overnight, so there’s a timetable there. I understand that, but we’re all hoping sooner rather than later.”

Do you brake with your right foot or left foot?

“Left foot.”

How has this experience and knowing about J.D. Gibbs’ health issues helped you see big picture?

“I wouldn’t say that I felt sorry for myself, I would just say I’m disappointed. I feel bad. I feel bad for my team. I feel bad for my sponsors and I feel bad for my fans that are all out there that are wishing and hoping I could be in a race car. It certainly is discouraging to not be out there and to be watching from the sidelines. Yet being in the team meetings and being involved in all that still with the team and organization and with Denny (Hamlin), Matt (Kenseth), Carl (Edwards) and David (Ragan), I think that’s been really good to still be involved in that respects. Certainly sometimes God has a lot of different things set forth for us and, obviously, this is one of those situations where Samantha and I are dealing with and learning. To your question about J.D. (Gibbs, JGR president), I mean things could be a whole heck of a lot worse. I’m thankful it’s not worse than it was. I could have had a serious neck or head injury or even worse. To us, we’ve prayed about it and been thankful for it and that I’m still here and actually able to be part of the birth of our son here in a couple weeks.”

How will it be determined when you can come back?

“As far as what I have to do to please the doctors, the bone growth has been coming along really well. The break in the leg has – we got an X-ray two weeks ago and you could see a little crack through it, but obviously it’s coming together really well. The foot, I just got a CT scan on it the other day. The doctor loved it and said it looked awesome. What is going to be the tolerance, that I’m not exactly sure. I think it’s just want I can do, how much strength I feel I can have. Obviously, being a football player, that’s a heck of a different task than getting into a race car and driving a race car. Will I be able to tackle driving a race car sooner than going for a triathlon with Jimmie Johnson? For sure. That is just to be seen by the doctors. If I can prove to them and show to them what they want me to do, then they’re going to release me for further activity. I go back in another two weeks for my next visit. That’s about all I know until then.”

Do you hope to be eligible for the Chase when you return to racing?

“Of course, yeah, I would love to be. I don’t know if it’s going to be 100 percent feasible to make the top-30 rule and I know the top-30 rule is in place for those one-offs that guys come in with a team or driver that raced at Daytona or Talladega or even a road course race and they win it, it’s not meant for those guys to be able to take a spot from a series regular that races every week for the Chase. Do I hope that NASCAR takes into consideration for M&M’s, Interstate Batteries and Toyota and the No. 18 Camry is a full-time team that is to be eligible for Chase competition at the beginning of the year? Certainly I hope they take that into consideration for the top-30 rule, but obviously that is left up to them, in their hands.”

Why is it important for you to breakdown this crash and work with NASCAR to better understand it?

“The wreck was so bad, you have to go to NASCAR and have them understand what happened in the car so we can continue to evolve safety and make the car better. A driver got hurt, so we have to fix that. Will we ever be able to reengineer every single crash scenario there may be? No. The ones we do have that I’m here for, I can help. I feel like I can be a help for that.”

Is it in any way therapeutic to breakdown the accident?

“It’s not necessarily therapeutic to go back through the crash, but if I was able to walk out of the infield care center people would ask me, ‘Well, what happened?’ So I think that was a more in-depth view than what I would give in a normal interview and, obviously, I’m in a lot better spirits than I would have been right after that situation, so time heals all wounds – especially those when you’re asked right after getting out of a crash. Just trying to reiterate what happened and just to show how amazing it can be for those in situations like that – how fast your mind actually works. It’s milliseconds that all that happened and those thoughts go through your mind. It’s crazy.”

How difficult has it been to not be in a race car?

“Like I said before, it’s discouraging. It stinks to be sitting on the sideline, but to be honest with you, like I said, the silver lining is just to be home, to be with Samantha and prep for our son coming. I think that’s been the most fun, although I’ve just been rolling around in a wheelchair and whatever else. Now finally getting to my feet, not carrying a whole lot of load yet, but I’m – it’s been good. It hasn’t been traumatic. I mean, yeah, we’ve had a couple moments where we’ve shared, we’re crying on each other’s shoulders – whatever it might be – it’s been a very difficult time in the beginning, but we’ve sort of dealt with it and known that this has been what’s given to us and we deal with it. And, yeah, it’s been fun to get out more and more. I mean, day four of being home, we were on the road going to see an ultrasound. Day six, seven we were doing what? Where’d I go? I went somewhere. I think I came to JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). I went to KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) – that’s right. So just to get out, get around instead of being locked up in the same ‘ole place, see some sights – I’ve got a nice window to the left of my bed that I get to look out and watch the squirrels play, but that’s about it. It’s not been terrible. Again, just wanting to get back. Obviously, I’m itching to get back. I want to get back sooner than later, but we’ve obviously got to be smart about it too knowing that I’ve got a long career ahead of me hopefully still, that we don’t need to rush anything too crazily and try to be as much healthy as I can be to get back and power our race car.”

Do you see yourself becoming an advocate for safety or would you rather let Jeff Gordon find the hard spots?

“I’ll let Jeff (Gordon) discover them all the time. I know he’s discovered plenty of them and we actually owe a lot to Jeff Gordon for taking those hits, but I think I finally found the one that could have really hurt. This might sound absolutely bona fide crazy, but as I was rolling off pit road before the start of the XFINITY race and there was guys pulling off to the left and they were re-centering their steering wheel, I actually looked over at that wall. I saw the tire wall and I was like, ‘Wow, I never even really noticed it over there,’ and then I saw the wall that was unprotected and I’m like, ‘Man, if somebody hits that, that’s really going to hurt.’ I mean, that happened. I’m not crazy, but you can tell me I am. That’s fine and then I go and find it. Just amazing. As far as being an advocate for safety, I just think it’s useful when you’re in that situation to help as much as you can, to give those answers to the NASCAR engineers and to help them innovate to make some changes to our cars, to make some changes to the race tracks to get the race tracks to step up and make those change. Anything and everything is useful. Any information that us drivers can give is beneficial to those individuals and, more times than not, we’d really appreciate it if they listen to us.”

Is there any way you might be improved after sitting out?

“I don’t know yet. I can’t answer that question yet. I don’t know if me getting back into the race car if I’m going to struggle or if I’m going to be right where I left off and I’m going to be fine. To be truthfully honest, I have not yet driven a 2015 race car at all. Last time I was in a downforce car was Homestead (Miami Speedway) last year. I raced the Sprint Unlimited and the Gatorade Duels at Daytona and that was to make the Daytona 500, but then past that I have no 2015 experience yet. That will be interesting to see how all that goes when I get back in the race car whenever that may be and hopefully I can adapt pretty quick just by listening and taking in what my fellow competitors here at JGR can give me for information.”

How do you feel Matt Crafton and David Ragan have done in your absence?

“I can’t say enough for Matt Crafton and David Ragan for being able to step in this situation. It’s crazy to think that Crafton just got home and was just laying his head down on his pillow to go to bed and he got a call to come back to Daytona to go race in the Sprint Cup Series race for his first ever start in the Daytona 500, but he did a great job. I think he learned a lot. I’ve talked to him a little bit and he said the car was pretty tight, which I guess you’d expect just jumping into something you’ve never driven. He did a great job. To come home after that last lap crash on the backstretch still with an 18th-place finish I thought was good. And then David Ragan being able to come in as a substitute driver and participate with the best of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) drivers here, he’s done a great job. To be honest with you, I think we as a company may still be behind just a little bit, but David Ragan is 10th in points right now. The kid is doing a fine job. He may not be lighting the world on fire, but he’s doing exactly what he needs to be doing for this team. This team is a brand new team this year. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) is obviously getting used to David as a driver and not me, but the team is gelling well. I’ve talked to the guys every week. I come by here and I see everybody and I participate in our meetings and go on the shop floor and so they get to see me, see my progress, which is good too. It’s a good time right now for the 18 team to just continue on down that path and I’m sure they’re all itching for me to get back, so I can’t let them pursue my wishes too quickly.”

Do you think about how this accident could have been worse?

“We’ve given some thought to it for sure. I think Samantha still sometimes sheds some tears over it at nighttime just thinking about that. We are very fortunate. We’re blessed. We know that with our lives that we have being in the Sprint Cup Series, me being a driver here, us being married, us being blessed now with the opportunity to go through IVF as she’s mentioned in her blogs and whatnot that we’re going to have our first son here in a little bit, everything seems to be a challenge. It doesn’t seem like anything ever comes easy, yet we power thought it. We strive as hard as we can. We dig deep and we make it all happen. It might not seem 70 and sunny and peaches and roses on the outside, or it does seem that way I should say, but maybe sometimes it’s not all that way on the inside of things. In retrospect, we’re very blessed.”

How will you approach racing outside the Cup Series moving forward?

“Well, as far as it goes right now today, my answer is we’re focused on Cup. I’ve got to get back in a Cup car first and foremost and make sure that I can withstand the capabilities of driving a Cup car for full distances. It’s not necessarily like starting over, but maybe it is. Truthfully, to walk – the first time I stood up, I about passed out. It’s just like trying to relearn how to walk. We knew how to do this when we were one year old, so the process will be interesting. We’ll just see how it goes. But as far as getting back into the XFINITY Series of the Camping World Truck Series, obviously we have contracts in place so there’s reasons for me to get back in those cars and pursue races, but as quickly as that might be we’ll just play it out and see how I feel. I think I’ll kind of work up to that.”

How does the no-testing policy impact your ability to return?

“Good question. I knew it was going to come. My plan right now and the doctors’ plan right now when they release me, they’re going to give me clearance to go test a late model. I’m going to go somewhere – whether it’s around here, wherever we go – I’m going to get into one of my late model cars, because that’s all I can test. I can’t test a truck, a XFINITY car or a Cup car, so I’ll get into a late model here whenever they release me to go and probably do a couple of test sessions at least and see how it all shakes out, see how it goes and then determine my readiness for Cup.”

Is it easier to handle being out of the car knowing you can’t race?

“Yeah, for sure. No doubt, especially in the beginning. It was actually really easy to sit at home and watch the races knowing that I physically can’t – there’s absolutely no way. I’m sure it’s going to get more difficult as I become more agile, able to move around better and to sit in a race car, sit in a seat and make pedals go and make the car around the race track. I think once you get to that point and determine how good you are then it’s kind of going to be, ‘Okay, we’ve got to make a decision here. We’ve got to get back in the race car.’ But still, you can’t allow yourself to over-speed your return just based off the fact of knowing I’ve got a long career ahead of me and there’s no sense in trying to rush it, but we’ll be smart about it and when we come back.”

What did you do to entertain yourself those first few weeks?

“It was TV. It was a lot of elevation and ice of course. Couple of video games here or there – playing some Xbox or some PlayStation getting some Madden going on or something like that. What else? A lot of visitors. I would say that’s probably been the biggest thing. I mean, shoot, there were days where it was like, ‘Holy smokes, it’s dinner time. Where’d the day go?’ Honest, we woke up at 8, 9 o’clock and all the sudden it was 6:00 p.m. and it was like, ‘Wow.’ You know? It almost felt faster being at home than it did actually being out on the road and going to these race tracks.”

Does NASCAR listen to drivers about safety?

“Yeah, the SAFER barrier, the wall or the being advocate for safety, I mean that there – there’s been drivers including me that have spoken up and said, ‘Man, we feel like we need walls here. This wall is too sharp. It rounds the corner too fast.’ Things like that and they don’t get changed overnight because they just can’t, but when you’re at Daytona and you see that wall and you tell Robin Pemberton (NASCAR vice president for competition), ‘Man, that wall just doesn’t make sense. It needs to be not as abrupt. It needs to be more gradual,’ and then you come back to Daytona the next time and it’s fixed, it’s like, ‘Well, they listened.’ I wouldn’t say that 100 percent of the time it goes in one ear and out the other. Maybe just one percent of the time, but a lot of the times they listen. They take our thoughts and considerations to heart and I know (Kevin) Harvick spoke up about him hitting that exact wall the year before I think and it not changing and it took my hit in order to get it to change, but hopefully that’s just a testament us drivers actually knowing what we’re talking about and people taking more notice to that, especially the race tracks. The race tracks are the ones that are in charge of that – it’s not necessarily NASCAR. NASCAR can only help so much.”

Have you seen little victories in your recovery?

“The little victories – yeah, it’s been interesting. When I first got home from the hospital, my right leg here – I couldn’t even move my ankle. I could maybe move it a quarter of an inch and now I’m probably about 80 percent of the way there. Just being able to move my ankle. My knee – oh my gosh – my knee has been probably the most painful thing because the doctor from Daytona he made an incision here above the knee in order to put the rod in through my leg instead of normally under the side of tendon over here where you don’t screw the tendon up, but it’s a better practice he said to go up here and put the rod in and everything was lined up really, really good. All the doctors down here were really impressed. It’s just been trying to get the mobility and the strength back in my quad and everything, so to be able to move it – to even be able to move it, I couldn’t even move it for probably a week, week and a half. But now already like last night, the therapist was over and laying on my stomach, bending my knee back, my ankle actually touched my butt, so doing good, getting better, every day is a morally victory. Being able to stand up and almost pass out the first time, that was rough and then two days later to be able to stand up fine and be able to start doing leg workouts and now I’m doing squats. I think the next thing tomorrow I go to physical therapy again I’ll be doing leg presses. How much weight can I do? It’s just a matter of every day that goes by you get better. Being able to walk the first time I got up and then the next step was try to put one foot in front of the other. I’m on a walker. The next step was now I’m carrying the walker around so in case I fall or do something – I trip – I’ve got something to catch myself, so then I’m carrying the walker around. Now the walker is gone, so it’s just every day, man, every day is just a little bit better.”

Do you have an upcoming surgeries scheduled?

“Yes, I do have surgeries planned already for December. I have to go back in for my left foot and get the plates and screws taken out of my left foot.”

What have you learned about yourself through this situation?

“That I actually do have a little bit if patience. Not a lot, but maybe a little. I think the other thing too is obviously Samantha and I share a lot of respect and love for one another, but I don’t think anything’s come as close as this experience that we’ve had to deal with. With her being there by my side and helping me and essentially being there for my dinner bell, it’s been awesome to have her. Also just her helping me, she was there when I first stood up. She was there holding my hand as I was making steps. She was there pushing me in the gym to do arm workouts or to do core workouts. She’s been my second PT (physical therapist). She’s on my butt, so I think she wants me back just to get me out of the house and to get ourselves back into a rhythm of what we’re used to. I think that’s been a huge learning experience for us – our relationship – and being prepared or getting prepared. I don’t think we’re ever prepared – for the birth of our son. It’s been good.”

Have you talked to Tony Stewart about your similar injuries?

“Tony (Stewart) was actually my first visitor at the hospital after the Daytona 500. He actually came right over when the race was over. He was there three, four hours. He was there for a long time. Actually, everybody went to the airplane and he came over to see me and he was like, ‘Ah, they can wait.’ That was really cool to have Tony come by. I’ve talked to him a lot about his injury. Our injuries are entirely different, yet somewhat similar because they’re compound fractures of the lower leg, but his was way more severe than what mine was. As far as the return timetable, mine would obviously be quicker than his was. It’s been great to have people to lean on and talk to. His PT (physical therapist) is the same as mine. His doctor that did his surgery is the one that is now kind of keeping up with me here in Charlotte, so that’s been fun. Am I going to go to a race? I don’t know. I’ll probably – obviously Charlotte is right here, so I’ll probably go to Charlotte. As far as Bristol this weekend, it’s supposed to rain, but there’s also a late model race, so I’ll probably go there. What else? Richmond is not far away and that’s a Toyota race – maybe. Talladega – probably not. Kansas – probably not, long flight, stuff like that. Stay maybe close to home.”

Did you ever think your career was over?

“It never did. Nope. I did think though that as it happened, when it happened I’m sitting there in the race car – I forgot to mention this – but as I was getting out, I knew my right leg was broke. When I was on my way out, it got stuck. I actually had to pull it and I was like – as I’m doing all that, I’m thinking to myself, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m done. There’s no way I’m going to be able to come back from this. This hurts.’ But that was probably the only time. I think that was just because it was so new, it was so abrupt that once you get to the doctors and they say, ‘Oh, man, you’re going to be as good as new. You’re doing to be better than new. You’re now going to be stronger. You’re going to have titanium in you. You’re going to be a man of steel.’ The new thing around the shop is that I legitimately now do have screws loose, so if I ever blame a screw loose on me doing something stupid then obviously it’s truthful. That’s kind of funny, but no. Past the hospitals getting home, it was just all about getting better and getting back to the track not giving it up.”

Did you read Brad Keselowski’s blog on your relationship?

“I guess I read it. I don’t know what I read, but I guess I read it. I don’t know how – there’s a lot of things I can go here, but for him writing it, it was probably good. For when it came out, it was probably poor, but it was based off him missing me essentially and me not being out there on the race track with him making stories with him on the race track so he made a story about us off the race track. So that’s why I say I think the timing was bad. Past that, the occurrences that he reciprocates in that story, I don’t recollect one bit – not one percent of that I don’t recollect – why would I be sitting at the back of my hauler the first time somebody comes up to me and says hello and I just ignore them? That doesn’t make any sense to me, especially me being a 16-year-old kid just getting into the sport. Whether that was before or after qualifying when I just waded up my truck and had to start at the back in a backup truck at IRP (now Lucas Oil Raceway), I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t recollect that. It might have just been after Jack Roush (co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing) chewed my rear off, so again I don’t I don’t recollect that. The second one I do recollect because, yeah, it was weekly making an ass of himself of wrecking people and being an idiot, so I had no respect for him so I didn’t want to talk to him. That’s my take on his story. It is what it is and he I guess had a lot of guts to write it.”

 

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 15 2015
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