With the question answered about when Kyle Busch will return – this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race – the focus shifts to “how will he fare?”
Because Sprint Cup drivers generally haven’t missed much time for injuries in recent years (prior to recent medical exemptions and Chase for the Sprint Cup format changes that allow for a championship despite beings sidelined), the sample size is relatively small for comparing how drivers have performed after returning from layoffs, particularly those of a significant length as long as Busch’s. But here’s how some recently have done.
Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, missed the first three races of the 2015 season while on suspension for being accused of domestic abuse. He has been stellar in eight races since returning to the No. 41 Chevrolet, starting with a fifth at Phoenix International Raceway. He also has scored two poles and an April 26 victory at Richmond International Raceway.
Tony Stewart missed the final 15 races of the 2013 season after a severe break to his right leg in a sprint car crash in Iowa. He hasn’t been the same since returning. In 44 starts, he has eight top 10s with a best of fourth (at Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway last year). He is ranked 30th in points this season with a season-high sixth at Bristol.
The last Cup star to miss significant time because of an injury sustained in a stock car was Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin missed four races (and started without finishing a fifth) from a broken back he suffered at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., during the fifth race of the 2013 season. After top fives in his first two full-length races after the return, Hamlin struggled for much of the season.
He posted only one top 10 during a 22-race stretch and said his injury hampered his driving and in providing adequate feedback to his team on improving the car. But he finished the season well with four top 10s in the last six starts, including a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed two races because of a concussion from a wreck at Talladega Superspeedway during the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, returning with two top 10s in the final four races of the season.
Blood clots and other health problems have sidelined Brian Vickers four times during the past five years. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver, who is sidelined indefinitely while on blood thinners, missed the final 25 races of the 2010 season but competed in the full ’11 campaign with and finished 25th in points with seven top 10s.
Prior to Vickers, the last Cup driver to miss significant time was Ricky Rudd, who was benched during five races in the 2007 season with an injured shoulder. After returning his best finish was 11th in the final six races of his NASCAR career.