The clock is ticking on Kyle Busch’s hopes to salvage something from the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said this week that he would like to “figure out how to accommodate” Busch’s desire to race in the 2015 Chase when he returns from injuries suffered at Daytona International Speedway on February 21. And while the sanctioning body has the leeway to overlook Busch’s absence from the 2015 starting lineup so far, there are other requirements the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will be hard-pressed to meet.
Busch suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula – along with a broken left foot – in the NASCAR XFINITY Series season-opener at Daytona, and will miss his ninth consecutive race this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. He is still weeks away from a competitive return, and when he does come back, he will need a NASCAR waiver to exempt him from the rule requiring Chase contenders to take part in every race. In addition, he will need to fight his way into the Top-30 in championship points and win at least one of the season’s first 26 races.
No matter how NASCAR rules, Busch will have his work cut out for him.
Just 17 races remain in the 2015 regular season, and Busch is still weeks away from a return to the cockpit. He admitted recently that there is no timeline for his damaged leg to fully heal, and said he will not press for an early return.
"I have to please my doctors," he said Busch, who still carries a rod and steel plates in his right leg, along with several screws in his left foot. "I have to go step by step and do everything they ask. They say my recovery is going faster than expected but… they won't release me a timetable."
France made it clear this week that he feels some degree of responsibility for Busch’s injuries.
''What happened to him was on us,'' said the NASCAR chairman, pointing to Busch’s impact with a concrete wall unprotected by an impact-absorbing SAFER barrier. “'You can't say, `Safety is our No. 1 priority’ and get that stuff wrong.''
Even if NASCAR awards Busch a waiver, however, the numbers are stacked steeply against him making the Chase. If the M&Ms Toyota driver is unable to return until July – and sources say that is likely the best-case scenario – he will have only 10 races left to fight his way into both the Top-30 and Victory Lane.
Even for a driver of Busch’s ability, that’s a tough row to hoe.
Last season, Michael McDowell was 30th in the championship standings at the end of 26 races, with a total of 407 points. For Busch to eclipse the 400-point mark in just 10 starts, he will need to average a fourth-place finish. That’s a lot to ask of a driver that is in peak physical condition and operating at 100% of his ability with no “racer’s rust.”
Busch will be none of those things.
For now, Busch will continue to focus on his rehabilitation. It’s all he can do, while eye