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CHASE FIELD APPEARS TO GET ROWDY
For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch the 2015 season appeared to be lost before it even started. An accident on Feb. 21 during the NASCAR XFINITY Series season-opening race left him with a broken right leg and left foot.
The injuries sidelined him for 11 races, ultimately appearing to dash any hopes of a championship run this season. NASCAR granted him a medical waiver, which allows him the opportunity to earn a berth in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup, but one caveat still stood in his way. Should he capture a victory, he would have to finish the season in the top 30 of the championship standings in order to qualify for the Chase.
On Sunday, he made his biggest step in what once appeared an improbable goal of qualifying for the Chase with his victory at Sonoma Raceway. Busch, who finished ahead of older brother Kurt for the Busch brothers first 1-2 finish in Sprint Cup Series competition, put his goal of making the Chase well within reach.
“Walking in (to Victory Lane) on a broken leg and a broken foot, there’s nothing better than that,” Busch said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The grueling 12-turn, 2.52-mile Sonoma Raceway road course that requires drivers to work both the brake pedal and clutch, proved taxing on his ginger leg and ankle. But true to his competitive spirit, the 30-year-old driver put aside the pain all for the chance to visit Victory Lane.
“I knew it (leg) was going to get painful and I was going to have to power through it,” Busch said. “Kind of there toward the middle end, that kind of started to cross my mind, but when you’ve got fresh tires and seven laps to go and you see the checkered flag waiting for you, you forget about all those things.”
Busch’s next obstacle is returning to the top 30 in the standings. The win propelled him to 37th, but he still remains 136 points back of 30th. According to NASCAR Statistical Services, Busch needs an average finish of 14th over the next 10 races to solidify his spot in the Chase.
For Busch, who has earned the reputation as one of NASCAR’s fiercest competitors, getting the victory provides a new approach as the races wind down to the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I figured the win was going to be the hardest thing to get, but now that that’s here (Sonoma) and it’s out of the way, we can now work towards being able to get ourselves in the top 30 and then just get some good solid finishes,” Busch said. “We don’t have to take that chance of going for a win and having an opportunity of crashing or something like that. We can just sit there and sit still and be able to finish third, fourth or fifth. You get those kinds of finishes and the points are going to add up and you’re going to be fine making the Chase.”
Understanding that his insurmountable points deficit would not disappear with one strong performance proved difficult to understand for a driver accustomed to going all out every lap.
Finishes of 36th at Dover and 43rd at Michigan put his team in a hole, forcing Busch to look at the entire picture.
“I know it’s going to take nine, ten weeks,” Busch said of his attempt to make the Chase. “It’s going to take the full brunt of it. It’s not going to happen in one week. That’s not how this business ever works.
“You’ve certainly got to play it out all the way through. That’s one of the things that maybe I haven’t been so good at over the years. You’ve got to have that focus for not just one week but for a long time, and 10 weeks is a long time. We’ve just got to do our job. We can’t screw up.”