CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.
The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.
“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.
There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.
Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.
Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.
He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.
“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”
He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.
NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.
Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.
“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”
Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.
Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.
Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.
Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:
NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings
1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.
2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.
5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.
6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.
7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.
8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.
9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.
10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.
Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).
NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.
With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed.
Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated.
Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.
“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”
Here is how the incident played out:
The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.
As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear.
Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) September 26, 2022
About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact.
Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.
This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time.
A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.
But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.
Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 26, 2022
After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron.
“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.
“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”
But it didn’t happen that way.
”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.
We were on the radio yelling at them what happened. I challenged my spot. What are they doing up there then?
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 26, 2022
NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.
Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline.
Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.
“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.
“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”
Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.
All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.
Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.
Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.
The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).
Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.
Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.
The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).
CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.