CONCORD – It wasn’t a win, which always makes Kyle Busch happy.
But after three months on the sidelines, Busch was satisfied to just finish a race.
Busch came in 11th in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, his first points-paying start on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour this season.
Busch, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, was looking good for a top-three finish. But a long run of green-flag laps late set up a fuel-mileage battle, won by JGR teammate Carl Edwards.
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“I feel pretty good,” Busch said. “All in all, that was a great race for us. We ran really strong, we ran up front and we showed we had some speed.
“It certainly is frustrating to finish where we did … but to get out there and have a strong run means a lot. We raced up towards the front, and battled side by side and door to door with some guys.”
Busch had missed 11 races after suffering a broken leg and foot during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in mid-February. His first race back was last week’s Sprint All-Star Race, where he finished a respectable sixth place.
However, at 110 total laps, the All-Star Race was a sprint compared to the Coca-Cola 600, at 400 laps the longest event on the Sprint Cup tour. But Busch said that didn’t prove to be a problem.
“I didn’t get tired or nothing like that,” Busch said. “I feel good. I could probably go a little longer. I wish we had gone a little longer – about 10 more laps would have been really nice for us.”
Starting 17th, Busch first cracked the top 10 within the first 35 laps, but he remained mired in the back half of the top 10 for the first half of Sunday’s race. However, he cracked the top five with 109 laps remaining, and was running second when back-to-back cautions helped set up the fuel-mileage battle.
Now Busch is focusing on the next stop on the Sprint Cup tour, next week at Dover, Del. He was granted a medical waiver by NASCAR to qualify for the season-ending Chase for the Cup, but has to meet two criteria – winning a race, and finishing in the top 30 in points.
Sunday’s finish in the Coca-Cola 600 – worth 33 points – was certainly a good start. Aside from winning a race, Busch needs to average a 15th-place finish or better over the 14 races to crack the top 30.
“It’s good to be back in a race car for myself,” Busch said. “Hopefully, we can get some strong runs and get ourselves in position to win, and put all four JGR cars in the Chase.”