NASCAR is a sport of constant revision: New parts, new rules, new aerodynamic packages, plus track conditions that can shift with a passing cloud.
Kyle Busch, who is dominating Sprint Cup of late, loves it that way.
“I kind of like change and feel I am fastest to adapt to it,” Busch said Friday in anticipation of Sunday’s Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway. “Fastest before crew chiefs and engineers have an understanding of how to make those packages better in order to get their cars better or their drivers better to keep up with me.”
No one has kept up with Busch of late.
Driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch has won four of the past five Sprint Cup Series races, including the past three. Each of those races – in Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis – had distinctly different aerodynamic packages that easily could have flummoxed any race team.
Based on his comments Friday, Busch welcomes all the variables NASCAR can throw at him and his team. Enough happened to him, on and off the track the first half of this season, to fill a career.
He and his wife, Samantha, had their first child, son Brexton, in May after struggling to conceive in the past. Of more consequence to his racing career, Busch suffered severe injuries – a broken left foot and a broken right leg – in a February crash at the Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway.
Busch missed the first 11 events on the Sprint Cup schedule and NASCAR gave him a waiver to qualify for the Chase based on certain performance requirements in the races he could run.
“I think you find out a lot of what you’re made of in those moments,” fellow driver Jeff Gordon said of Busch’s rehab. “I’m fortunate I never had to go through that. I admire those who have – how they pushed themselves to the limits.
“We’re thinking 6-8 months before he’ll be back and then what? He came back a lot sooner and has been on a tear.”
Thought season was over
What seemed like a disastrous early season crash has morphed into a source of focus and inspiration for Busch and his support system.
“I did think the season was over,” Busch acknowledged in a conference call with reporters. “I did think it would take a full 12 months to recuperate and recover and (be) back to normal.”
Doctors encouraged him that the prognosis was better than that, particularly if Busch was persistent about his rehabilitation. So Busch, 30, set about outworking the problem.
His therapist learned quickly this wasn’t a typical patient.
“I kept pushing him and telling him, ‘Hey, I want to be able to do this,’ or ‘Hey, I want to be able to do that,’ ... So I was almost pushing him more than he was pushing me,” Busch recalled.
“More and more as I started getting up and walking and doing some different things, he started pushing me. Saying, ‘Man, you’ve got to start doing this, you’ve got to do that. Put more weight on this.’”
What once might have been a six-month process was cut in half. In mid-May, Busch announced his return to the circuit. NASCAR offered him a waiver that he could still qualify for the Chase if he won at least one race and finished in the top 30 in driver standings.
A balancing act
Busch said part of the challenge through all this was not becoming detached from his crew and also balancing his own recovery with the demands of Samantha’s late-term pregnancy.
“There was never a time, never a weekend, when we weren’t able to speak to one another,” Busch said of his relationship with crew chief Adam Stevens. “(Then) just studying the racing while I was away and being hungry for it. ... I don’t have anything else in life that interests me as much as driving a race car.”
Everything isn’t bliss. Busch still has pain in his left foot and will need additional surgery once the season ends. He suspects the road-course layout in Watkins Glen, N.Y., with its twist of left and right turns, will add to his discomfort.
But all-in-all, with the added joy of traveling with his first child, life is pretty terrific.
“Having Brexton, obviously he’s a great inspiration to me and my wife,” Busch said. “I think he likes Victory Lane more than anybody else. He wants to be there so much that, I don’t know if it’s osmosis or his luck, but it’s just rubbing off on us.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell
Rob Kauffman, an investor in Michael Waltrip Racing, made some brief comments Saturday on why he bought a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing, which could result in further Sprint Cup consolidation:
“What we’re really doing is integrating the businesses,” Kauffman said. “Our plan – whether to have three or four cars or one or two roofs – is yet to be determined.
“On the business side (of NASCAR) it’s very hard to have a reasonable business model. I think you’re going to see more consolidation along the way. There aren’t many one- or two-car teams without larger affiliations.”
Jimmie Johnson clipped a man with his No. 48 Chevrolet in the garage area during a Saturday-morning practice session. The man was uninjured, according to NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp, but Johnson was reportedly shaken by the incident.