It’s clear how much Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch both miss Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot after crashing into a wall unprotected by a SAFER barrier at Daytona International Speedway in the season-opening Xfinity Series race Feb. 21.
And since the younger Busch brother has been gone, things just aren’t the same for Hamlin or Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It’s a shame because we just had our driver lineup right where we wanted it with the four of us (Hamlin, Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards),” Hamlin said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. “We felt like this was going to be a good thing, and I was looking forward to hearing some more feedback from Kyle.
“You definitely miss that feedback. … Until the fourth car (Edwards) came this year, he (Kyle) was 33 percent of the information that went through that race team and it’s just a little different there without him for sure.”
Hamlin keeps in regular contact with Kyle Busch, whose return remains indefinite as he recovers from his injuries. Busch is trying to stay as involved as he can with the sport, Hamlin said.
“He seems well,” Hamlin said. “He’s somewhat chatty through the texts that we have. He’s definitely paying a lot of attention to the races and what he sees from the outside.
“I think he’s very engaged and obviously making the best of the situation that he’s got. I know when I was out two years ago (missing four races because of a fractured back), it just gives you a different perspective and a different way to look at things. I’m sure coming back he’ll probably be a lot more appreciative of the time he’s got inside that race car because he knows how quickly it can go away.”
Hamlin has high praise for Busch’s replacement, David Ragan, who is scheduled to drive the No. 18 Toyota for the next several weeks.
“Obviously, David has done a great job, but we’re excited to get Kyle back just as soon as we can just for the reason that this is the four-driver dynamic that Joe (Gibbs, team owner) put together and we hope to bring our race teams, all of them, up to a higher level. Right now we’re just missing just a little something.”
Kyle Busch’s older brother, Kurt, who was back in a race car Friday for the first time since NASCAR suspended him for the first three races, also is missing his sibling.
“I saw Kyle right when he came back to Charlotte before he had his second surgery, and he seemed in good spirits,” Kurt Busch said. “The steps for him, what makes his tough, is that he wants to get back to the track as soon as possible, but he can’t rush the healing of bones and surgeries.
“And so, we have to keep track of him to give him things to do and to keep his mind in a phase where he’s not trying to rush it. We’ve got to hopefully see him progress at the right pace and then show up back at the track and try to get the best out of 2015 that he can. Overall, he’s taking it very well.”