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Kyle Busch Making Strides Toward Chase Berth

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 17 2015
Kyle Busch's championship hopes for 2015 are far from over. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Kyle Busch’s championship hopes for 2015 are far from over. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

As news of the seriousness of Kyle Busch’s injuries began to surface in the hours after he crashed during a XFINITY Series race in Daytona during Speedweeks in February, many had to figure that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s bugqahope that he would win his first Sprint Cup championship in 2015 were non-revivable.

People simply had to figure that nothing – not even NASCAR’s offer to make Busch eligible for the Chase should he get a victory and make his way into the top 30 in points – could breath air into the Las Vegas driver’s hopes.

But since returning to the driver’s seat after his 11-week absence to recover from the foot and leg injuries he sustain in the wreck, Busch has made a steady climb back into Chase contention.

He’s won twice – most recently a week ago at Kentucky Speedway – and he is moving in on the top 30 in points. He arrived in Loudon for this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway 35th in the standings, 87 points behind Cole Whitt in 30th.

On Friday, Busch met with the media and talked about his health, his team and his chances.

The following is a transcript of his press conference:

Question: How do you keep the momentum of your team going from the victory at Kentucky?

Answer: “Certainly over the last few weeks we’ve done a decent job at being able to run up front, contend for wins and obviously that momentum is just kind of starting to build. We hope to continue that one here this weekend at New Hampshire. Looking forward to the Interstate Batteries Camry and making sure we can have another good, strong run here. I think it was two years ago, we finished second both times. Last year we had some really good runs and some opportunities to finish well. Our car started the races really good. It seemed like other guys made some good adjustments throughout the race and kind of got better than us. Hopefully here this weekend we can work on that, fix those problems and still continue on to have some decent runs here to try to salvage some more wins.”

How does the team’s goal change from other teams with respect to race wins and making the top-30 for the Chase?

“I think everybody has the same goals to make the Chase and to get those wins and to be top-30. I think if we were a guy or a team that was sort of 13th through 16th or whatever and didn’t have wins then we’d be in the same position we’re in right now – we’re racing for points. We have to get those points to be the highest eligible guy without the win, but our circumstances are a little different – we’ve got wins and yet we still seem to be out. We’re just doing the best job that we can each and every week to continue to put good cars on the race track. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys have done a phenomenal job of that so far this year. Especially with me being in the car, I’ve been real happy with things and we just have to keep that going.”

Has there been some type of impact on the organization with the races you missed?

“I don’t know that me missing races was any sort of setback to the organization. Maybe just within the drives – Carl (Edwards), Matt (Kenseth) and Denny (Hamlin) – us all being able to work together and talk amongst ourselves and things of that nature. As far as our cars and things like that, JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and our engineering department and our production staff, they kind of have a plan in place and we get cars when we get cars. I’m not sure me being in the seat would have made any difference to them, they work as hard as they can each and every day and we’re all real appreciative of them and the job that they do. It’s tough to keep up in this day and age in the Sprint Cup Series and yet we kind of saw that a little bit last year and maybe somewhat the year before that we were kind of falling behind. The guys really went to work and we got some smart people over the off-season with being able to add on the fourth team with Carl and that just alleviated us to get some more people and some smart people as well too that could just work on our cars and try to build speed and that’s what they’ve done.”

How has this experience changed you if at all?

“I think anytime any person that goes through the kind of setbacks that I went through — I think it always changes you a little bit. Some look towards the brighter side of things and others tend to look towards the darker side of things. Fortunately for me and everybody that I’ve had around me, including my wife and now my son and family, friends – it’s been really, really fun to come out of this experience and to be able to grow and learn a little bit. Just maybe enjoy things a little bit differently and that’s what it’s been all about. More so than just all that, you get back in the race car and you run well and you’re happy with your team and then you win races – winning cures all. That’s just sort of the statement that I think many drivers would attest to, but we’ve certainly had some good runs and been real positive as of late.”

Do you still experience any pain in the race car?

“Winning cures all and it seems like last week at Kentucky the good runs we had there, my foot has felt a lot better. I wouldn’t attribute it to that. Early on I probably mentioned at Charlotte that I wasn’t dealing with much pain and I really wasn’t. There’s times where it flares up and it gets bad and you have some good days and you have some bad days. The more and more we get going here, the more and more good days I seem to have. Just trying to get through the inflammation and stuff like that, that I had in my foot and ankle and everything has gotten a lot better. To be honest with you, I feel 100 percent behind the wheel of the car and I can push the brakes real well – I think we saw that at Sonoma. I started to feel a little bit of pain with about 25 (laps) to go, but then you get the adrenaline to take over and get going when you’re having a shot at the win and you don’t feel anything until the next day afterwards when everything kind of calms back down. Last week at Kentucky everything went real well, real smooth actually. Got out of the car and walked around for all the media stuff afterwards and didn’t really feel any ill effects. It’s getting better.”

Is the pain in both the leg and the foot?

“The foot has definitely been a lot worse. If it was only the leg that got injured in Daytona, I probably would have been back three weeks sooner than I was. I felt like Texas the leg was ready to go, but the foot has just kind of been a little bit worse just because there’s so many bones in your foot. I think there’s over 100 muscles in your foot, but there’s over 30 bones or something in your foot. It’s complicated down there, that’s that the doctor said, it’s complicated.”
Do you have to race more for points now than wins based on your situation?

“Certainly, I think Dover was a prime example of that. I was running third and had (Martin) Truex kind of breathing down me a little bit so I was trying to get through the lapped traffic. If I didn’t have Truex on me, I could have probably just let the circumstances play out a little differently getting into turn three. I didn’t have that luxury. You live and you learn and certainly there’s some situations that I’d like to have back, but it is what it is. We’ll just continue to race as hard as we can and yet as smart as we can. I know that’s kind of a double-edged sword sometimes and it certainly is, but I feel like I’m smart enough and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and my team are all good enough that we can do those things. I believe we’ll be just fine.”
How much do you focus on the numbers and play them out in your head?

“The only numbers game that I ever really played is the Dover and Michigan numbers that I gave away. I feel like I probably gave away 60 points in those two so I would be 17 out right now, which would be essentially nothing. We might even make that up here this weekend. That’s irrelevant, we’re 87 so that’s the number we look at. To be honest with you, we just go out every week and try to perform at our best and we know that our best will put us in a good enough spot in order gather those points in order to get in the top-30 in points. We’ll be fine, we just have to do the right things and if this Sunday is an eighth-place finish, then that’s what it is. If it’s a 12th, then that’s what it is. It will get us there a little bit slower, but if we can get a win or a top-five like we should be here, that’s the way I’ve run here the last few times. I feel like we’ve had some really good cars. Last year, last fall I think I got caught up in some carnage with (Matt) Kenseth that knocked our nose in and whatever and we still ended up eighth somehow. That wasn’t too terrible. As bad as that day could have been, we finished top-10s. I feel pretty promising that we can have a good run here.”

What are your feelings about the changes in aero packages for different race tracks?

“I believe that NASCAR has given every effort to put a better product out there on the race track for the race fans. Sometimes it makes me laugh, race fans will say, ‘Man, the racing back in the 70s or the 80s or whatever it might have been was awesome, so much fun and so cool to watch those highlight reels.’ Really the highlight reels are cool, but the races were boring. There were three cars on the lead lap. Now you’ve got 30 cars every single week that are on the lead lap. I don’t know, I don’t know if having three cars on the lead lap would be more exciting to these fans or not. Certainly I feel like NASCAR has done a really good job of trying some different things and to do it in the middle of the season, I don’t know that they’ve ever really done that before. It just shows that we all have a job to do and NASCAR included has a job to do. The Kentucky race I felt like was an A-plus. Besides all being closer together, you could have put on a better race, but I thought that the finish, I thought the excitement around the race was pretty good. Of course restarts is always going to have cars around each other on restarts and they do single-file out, even at short tracks they single-file out. The less downforce package last week was good, I felt positive about it. I know our team ran well so maybe that’s why. Past that, the other aero packages that we’re going to run at Indy and Michigan are going to be different. We’re not sure what to expect really. I know a couple guys tested it this week, but we’ll see how all that pans out and if it produces exactly what NASCAR is looking for. I’m not 100 percent certain it will, but sometimes I’m not always the most skeptical person out there or positive person I should say. I think different packages for different race tracks is not such a bad thing. I do agree with Tony Stewart that someone’s got to help these race teams with these costs of all these different packages though, it’s not always cheap especially with four teams. We all certainly didn’t budget for different aero packages in the beginning of the year and now we’ve got to rework our budgets in order to fit that in. It gets a little challenging sometimes.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 17 2015
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