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A Changed Kyle Busch Logs Best Finish In A 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2016
Events both personal and professional have transformed Kyle Busch as a NASCAR driver. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Events both personal and professional have transformed Kyle Busch as a NASCAR driver. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

One year after Kyle Busch lay in a hospital bed in Daytona Beach, Fla., wondering if he would ever drive again due to severe foot and leg injuries he suffered in the 2015 Xfinity Series season opener, the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion produced his best-ever finish in the Daytona 500.

sprint-logo-08Placing third to fellow Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., Busch led twice for 19 laps, the third most by any driver. Only Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Matt Kenseth led more. The intensity and talent Busch exhibited before last year’s crash remains as demonstrated with his performance in Sunday’s Daytona 500. However, that crash, along with becoming a father, has changed the now 30-year-old Busch; it has matured him.

Prior to last season, Busch had never been sidelined for nearly three months and had to watch the sport move on without him while someone else drove his car. He’d never had to return from such a severe injury and persevere through such intense rehabilitation.   

 “Learning those things through the beginning part of the season definitely made me stronger and better and maybe more patient, but still passionate and fired and driven for this sport, what it is and wanting to win a championship,” Busch said.

Gibbs says that Busch has learned that when something bad occurs, don’t let it lead to something worse; keep your poise and work through it.  

“You never know what causes somebody to change,” Gibbs continued, “but he’s very smart and I think he’s gone through a lot. When you experience some of those down things, you say, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’ I think it’s been a learning thing for him. He’s more mature. He’s got family, things are in place, and I think he’s looking at things differently than he did when he first came up.”

Busch’s broken right leg and left foot caused him to miss the first 11 Sprint Cup point races in 2015. He returned in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, first in the All-Star race and then in the Coca-Cola 600. NASCAR granted Busch a waiver and said if he could win a race and make it into the top 30 in the driver standings, he could make the Chase. Slightly more than a month after his return, Busch won at Sonoma Raceway. That triggered a stretch of four victories in five races. He cracked the top 30 in points following the August race at Watkins Glen International.

Even though Busch produced a phenomenal comeback in order to win his first-ever Sprint Cup title, he said the challenges he faced didn’t mean he cherished it more than he would have had he claimed it in 2008 when he had his best season. That year he won eight races, produced 17 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes, but placed 10th in the standings. Jimmie Johnson won the championship that year with seven victories, 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes.

“To do it in the fashion we did was certainly unique,” Busch said about the 2015 title. “I don’t know that it will ever happen like that again. With the way the rules are, it gave me the opportunity to win a championship. In years past, you wouldn’t have had that.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2016
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