It was a day filled with hard crashes, a day that brought back memories of another crash.
Kyle Busch had a terrible crash at Daytona in February in the XFINITY Series race, breaking his leg and foot. He was out of racing for several months recuperating and rehabbing, to be able to race again. Many critics said he wouldn’t be back at all this year. Even his doctors were not optimistic about a return before mid-July.
But Busch had his own ideas about returning and in 12 weeks he was back. In preparation, he had extra padding and shoes made specifically for him. While still in rehab, Busch even predicted he would win a race this year.
Talk was circulating that Busch would be automatically placed in the Chase by NASCAR. Finally, a medical waiver was issued that released Busch from the stipulation that a driver must attempt to qualify for all 26 regular season races to qualify for a Chase berth. He would, however, have to finish within the top 30 in the point standings to be eligible.
Few thought Busch could win a race. Crew chief Adam Stevens said, “It is a miracle,” and went on to say that, “It was almost impossible to win on a road course, of all things.”
A late race caution had the leader, Jimmie Johnson, staying out while Clint Boyer, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch went to pit road for 4 tires. It wasn’t long before Johnson couldn’t hold off the challengers with their new tires. With five laps to go, Kyle Busch passed Johnson for the lead and never gave it up. When Johnson lost the lead, he was losing ground fast.
At the same time, Kurt Busch came from deep in the field and was picking cars off as he drove to the front. Boyer was racing Kurt Busch for second. Busch battled with Clint Boyer and moved passed Boyer for second place. While that was going on Kyle Busch was pulling away.
Kurt then set his sights on his brother and tried to run him down. Kyle was pushing hard to win the race and in the last two laps made mistakes in turn 11, but Kurt was unable to catch his brother.
Kyle was not to be denied, winning the race. Kurt finished second with Bowyer finishing in third place.
After the race, Kurt was somewhat upset because he thought he should have been more aggressive on the final two restarts. By not being aggressive, Kyle was able to race without being challenged.
Kurt was, however, ecstatic about the one-two finish for him and his brother and praised Kyle’s quick return to the track after his injuries.
“I’m very proud of Kyle for getting back in the car as soon as he did. He further stated,” to be competitive at a tough racetrack like Sonoma, I am very proud of him.”
With this win, Kyle tied Kevin Harvick for 23rd on the all-time wins list. This is Busch’s first win this year; his last victory was March 23, 2014. There are 800 starts between the brothers and this is the first time they finished one-two.
Clint Boyer said it was wild out there.
“We weren’t just able to capitalize,” Bowyer explained. ”I think we were probably a second or third place car. It seemed like for whatever reason the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) came on really good there. The 41 (Kurt Busch) was probably the fastest car all weekend long. We were right there with him. Fun to come out here in wine country and be able to compete like that. This is where we need to be running. We need to be able to go to these regular race tracks and keep this momentum and confidence level up that we have when we come out here. It’s unfortunate, you get that close and you want to get greedy.”
Kyle described his day as “awesome,” and gave credit to his crew chief for making the right call at the end of the race and the team for great pit stops.
“There at the end our best chance to win was coming in and getting 4 tires,” Busch said.
He also spoke about the physical toll the race took on him.
“The hardest thing for me today was the braking,” he stated. “You brake often and hard.”
At his track, drivers only use the clutch to take off. They shift while on the course without using the clutch. He went on to say,”I was sore on Friday, left the track and iced all night. The pain on Saturday was not an issue. Having a win means you don’t have to push as hard. The emphasis will be on finishing third or fourth or even fifth”.
The series returns to Daytona next week, the track where he was badly injured. Is Busch worried?
When asked about it, Kyle smiled and said, “I’m looking forward to it.”