Busch wins again to keep comeback in high gear
Loudon, N.H. — Stuck in a hospital, Kyle Busch could only think about a comeback, not championship contention.
Could Busch imagine, days after a horrific crash, he would become a title contender?
“Yeah, right,” he said. “You’re crazy.”
Nothing seems preposterous these days for Busch, whose dormant-to-dominant run over the last two months has not only made him a regular in victory lane, but steamrolled him toward the cusp of a Chase berth.
Busch rolled on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning for the second straight weekend and the third time in the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
“This is something I’m not sure we ever would have expected,” Busch said.
Busch isn’t where he needs to be in the standings quite yet. His three wins are certainly enough to earn a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth. He’s still outside the top 30 in points, which is the second major qualifier to race for the title in the final 10 races of the season.
Busch won at Sonoma Raceway and last week at Kentucky Speedway and is 33rd in the standings, 58 points behind David Gilliland for 30th.
Cole Whitt is 31st and Brett Moffitt 32nd, easy pickings for Busch.
“I’m not sure we’ve unleashed the beast at all,” Busch said.
Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a crash the day before the season-opening Daytona 500. He missed the first 11 races of the season, then returned in late May determined to earn a playoff spot.
Busch, who last won at New Hampshire in July 2006, said Friday he still is bothered by the leg injuries. The aches hardly seemed to matter in the No. 18 Toyota.
“We’ve got to keep doing our deal,” Busch said. “Every week it keeps getting better and better.”
Busch has gained 70 points on the 30th spot over the last two races and is not only a threat to qualify for the Chase — but to win it all for Joe Gibbs Racing should he crack the 16-driver field.
“Ever since that injury, he’s been on it,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know what (the deficit is) now but it’s sure helping.”
With Busch in the field or not, JGR has three other contenders in Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth finished sixth, Edwards started from the pole and was seventh, and Hamlin 14th. JGR took four of the top-five spots at Kentucky. Busch won and Hamlin-Edwards-Kenseth went 3-4-5.
“I think we’re certainly back, closer,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know that we’ve turned the corner.”
NASCAR granted Busch a waiver upon his return that made him Chase eligible, should he qualify. He has seven races left to crack the top 30 before the Chase opens Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Busch had one of his best performances in his comeback, rallying from a lap down to win. Busch, who led 95 laps, stayed out during a late pit stop to take the lead from contenders Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) and Kenseth.
Keselowski was second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Keselowski led a race-high 101 lapsand his No. 2 Ford appeared the car to beat, leaving him clearly irked at losing the lead with 48 laps left.
How tough would it be to beat Busch in the Chase?
Crew chief Adam Stevens, in his first season calling the shots in Cup for JGR, made all the right choices to keep Busch in contention for the win and a crack at the top 30.
“I don’t have any fears of being able to close that gap,” Stevens said.
Sprint Cup standings
1. Kevin Harvick, 734
2. Joey Logano, -69
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., -79
4. Jimmie Johnson, -88
5. Martin Truex Jr., -106
6. Brad Keselowski, -131
7. Matt Kenseth, -156
8. Kurt Busch, -158
9. Jamie McMurray, -160
10. Jeff Gordon, -161
11. Denny Hamlin, -182
12. Kasey Kahne, -196