A sport celebrated Kyle Busch’s return last weekend, but it waits to see if he can celebrate a victory in the next 15 races and earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 begins the countdown. Busch must win a race and be in the top 30 in points before the Chase begins to compete for the title – after missing the season’s first 11 races when he broke his right leg and left foot in a crash during the Feb. 21 Xfinity race at Daytona.
NASCAR granted Busch a waiver exempting him from the requirement that a driver must start every race to be Chase eligible but did not exempt the top 30 rule.
Over the past four years, the average point total for the driver 30th in the standings when the Chase began was 420.8. Busch begins this weekend at zero.
Last season, Busch scored 314 points during the final 15 races before the Chase began. That included six finishes of 36th or worse.
Should Busch clear that hurdle, he still needs a victory. That won’t be easy with head start the field has with this new areo and engine package.
What concerns Busch the most – getting a win or making the top 30 in points?
“I’m probably most nervous of getting a race victory,’’ said Busch, who will start 17th in Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I know how hard it is to win these races.
“I feel like the top 30 is relatively achievable, I don’t think it’s going to be too hard. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t average better than a 16th-place finish. Joe Gibbs Racing is better than that, my race team is better than that, and I feel like I’m better than that.”
Busch has won at nine of the 15 remaining races before the Chase begins. He has two career Cup wins in the June Dover race and two wins at Watkins Glen and Bristol in August. He’s not won the Coca-Cola 600, either Pocono race, the June Michigan race, Indianapolis and the September Richmond race.
Still, he knows there are some good tracks for him in the coming weeks.
“Dover is always a really good place for us,’’ said Busch, who has four top-10s in his last five starts there and led a total of 563 laps during that stretch. “If I can get Jimmie Johnson to speed on pit road again in the last 50 laps of the race then I could probably win that thing.
“Indy has been good for us some years. Watkins Glen especially and then Richmond again, there’s a lot of races in between that we’re pretty confident we can run well at – we just have to. I’ve won at some of those places before like Michigan for instance, Bristol is in there, Darlington. All those places I feel like we can run well at.’’
It’s just a matter of doing so.