Busch races to third win of year
LOUDON, N.H. — Stuck in a hospital, Kyle Busch could only think about a comeback, not championship contention.
Could Busch imagine, days after a horrific crash, he would become a title contender?
"Yeah, right," he said. "You're crazy."
Nothing seems preposterous these days for Busch, whose dormant-to-dominant run over the last two months has not only made him a regular in victory lane, but steamrolled him toward the cusp of a Chase berth.
Busch rolled on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning for the second straight weekend and the third time in the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
"This is something I'm not sure we ever would have expected," Busch said.
Busch isn't where he needs to be in the standings quite yet. His three wins are certainly enough to earn a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth. He's still outside the top 30 in points, which is the second major qualifier to race for the title in the final 10 races of the season.
Busch won at Sonoma Raceway and last week at Kentucky Speedway and is 33rd in the standings, 58 points behind David Gilliland for 30th.
Cole Whitt is 31st and Brett Moffitt 32nd, easy pickings for Busch.
"I'm not sure we've unleashed the beast at all," Busch said.
Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a crash the day before the season-opening Daytona 500. He missed the first 11 races of the season, then returned in late May determined to earn a playoff spot.
Busch, who last won at New Hampshire in July 2006, said Friday he still is bothered by the leg injuries. The aches hardly seemed to matter in the No. 18 Toyota.
"We've got to keep doing our deal," Busch said. "Every week it keeps getting better and better."
Busch has gained 70 points on the 30th spot over the last two races and is not only a threat to qualify for the Chase — but to win it all for Joe Gibbs Racing should he crack the 16-driver field.
"Ever since that injury, he's been on it," Gibbs said. "I don't know what (the deficit is) now but it's sure helping."
With Busch in the field or not, JGR has three other contenders in Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth finished sixth, Edwards started from the pole and was seventh, and Hamlin 14th. JGR took four of the top-five spots at Kentucky. Busch won and Hamlin-Edwards-Kenseth went 3-4-5.
"I think we're certainly back, closer," Gibbs said. "I don't know that we've turned the corner."
NASCAR granted Busch a waiver upon his return that made him Chase eligible, should he qualify. He has seven races left to crack the top 30 before the Chase opens Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Busch had one of his best performances in his comeback, rallying from a lap down to win. Busch, who led 95 laps, stayed out during a late pit stop to take the lead from contenders Brad Keselowski and enseth.
Keselowski was second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Keselowski led a race-high 101 laps and his No. 2 Ford appeared the car to beat, leaving him clearly irked at losing the lead with 48 laps left.
How tough would it be to beat Busch in the Chase?
"He's good," Keselowski grumbled, "but we're a good team and I feel like we can beat him."
Crew chief Adam Stevens, in his first season calling the shots in Cup for JGR, made all the right choices to keep Busch in contention for the win and a crack at the top 30.
"I don't have any fears of being able to close that gap," Stevens said.
Busch was joined by son Brexton, born in late May, in victory lane wearing a No. 18 outfit. He should have borrowed his son's bibs for the winner's 21-pound lobster he was awarded in victory lane.
He also made it 12 different winners at the last 12 New Hampshire races, the longest active streak at any track without a multiple-race winner in NASCAR.
On a day with temperatures soaring into the 90s, Matt DiBendendetto and Michael Annett were treated after the race at the NASCAR care center.
"This is one of the warmest days I can remember in this part of the country," Busch said.