When NASCAR returns to the track Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox), it will mark the end of a 10-week gap since its last race at Phoenix Raceway on March 8.
It’s a familiar situation for Kyle Busch.
Five years ago, injuries caused Busch to go 11 weeks between NASCAR starts before he returned for the All-Star Race in May.
Busch fractured his right leg and left foot in a late-race crash in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February. The All-Star Race was his first Cup start since the 2014 season finale.
“I’m looking at a lot like 2015,” Busch said this week in a media release. “Being off for 11 weeks after the accident in Daytona and then coming back to racing (one weekend later than this year), actually. The biggest difference is that I’m not recovering from an injury and everyone else has had the same time off that I had.”
The NASCAR industry has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notable drivers in Sunday’s race who have sat out for longer than 10 weeks are Ryan Newman, who suffered an injury in the Daytona 500, and Matt Kenseth, who hasn’t raced in NASCAR since 2018 and replaced Kyle Larson during the break.
“So I think I have a little bit of experience doing this even though it’s not the exact same thing,” Busch said. “As far as the feel at Darlington, it’s probably going to feel a little bit like the beginning of the year again, but you don’t really know until you get there and see how it feels.”
Busch detailed how he’s kept in racing shape over the last two and a half months, which included taking part in NASCAR’s Pro Invitational iRacing Series.
“There have been a number of things I’ve been doing over the last couple of months,” Busch said. “I’ve been working out around probably 90 percent of the days that we’ve been off. I’ve been continuing what I usually do as far as working out goes, so physically I’ll definitely be ready. It takes a little time to get back into race shape, but being in good shape overall shortens that a bit.
“I’ve been doing plenty of iRacing over the last several months, too, so that should help a bit, as well. It’s not exactly the same, but there are some principles that I can take from iRacing that will help me when we get back to racing. There has been a ban on all of the simulator testing until recently. I’ve been over to the (Toyota Racing Developing) sim rig already, just getting some reps in there, as well.”
Like his fellow competitors, Busch and the No. 18 team won’t get any practice or qualifying time before the green flag drops on Sunday.
“I think the mindset for Turn 1 at the start of Darlington, and really all the races where we haven’t been on track yet, would be to take it easy,” Busch said. “It’s a 400-mile race on Sunday and there will be plenty of time. … It won’t take too long to get acclimated again.”