INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch has silenced his critics and gained a newfound respect from fans as he continues his return to NASCAR following the crash that left him sidelined for the first 11 races of the season with a compound leg fracture and broken foot.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota, claimed his third victory in a row on Sunday and gave the Toyota brand its first trip to victory lane at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), breaking a 12-straight winning streak held by Chevrolet at the 2.5-mile track.
“This is awesome!” Busch screamed across the radio to his team as he crossed the finish line at IMS.
Busch was able to hold Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano back during three late-race restarts and a green-white-checkered finish. Busch beat Logano to the finish line by .332 seconds to win Sunday’s Crown Royal-Jeff Kyle 400 and earned the right to kiss the bricks ... again.
“This is a great day for us and a great weekend for Toyota,” Busch said. “This weekend is a true testament to what this racing organization is all about. I knew we had a really good car on Friday during practice. When I was by myself on the track, it drove really good. I knew we would have a decent shot if we could just get out front. We tried some different strategies toward the end and it kind of worked in our favor.”
Breaking out the broom for the weekend, Busch not only took the Sprint win in dramatic late-race caution fashion, he also puckered up after Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 XFINITY race to kiss the yard of bricks. Busch has visited victory lane on two other occasions in the XFINITY series during his career.
“We’ve had so much emotion,” JGR car owner Joe Gibbs said. “All of us at JGR feel this is special time for us. What has happened with Kyle (Busch) doesn’t happen too often in sports. There are not too many stories like this — particularly in pro sports. Indianapolis is such a big deal for us. To think that Kyle went through what he did with his injuries and all the heartbreak. There are so many questions when you come back from an injury like that. We didn’t know how it would affect him mentally, physically and emotionally. To see him bounce back and accomplish what he’s done — this will rank in history as a special sports story.”
Busch showed his ability to win three straight races at three race tracks using three different competition packages at each track: low-downforce at Kentucky with a 3.5-inch spoiler, the standard 2015 rules at New Hampshire with a six-inch spoiler and high-drag at Indianapolis with a nine-inch spoiler and one-inch wicker.
“There is no question that we’ve certainly over-exceeded any expectation that I had coming back,” Busch said. “We just wanted to come back and get back into a rhythm and get some top 20s and top 10s, but I felt ready when I came back. I didn’t want to come back and not be a contender, but I never dreamed it would come to us this quickly. We’re going to bask in the moment and enjoy it.”
Jeff Gordon’s last race at The Brickyard as a full-time Cup driver saw his hopes for an unprecedented sixth victory at the 2.5-mile track suffer an unrecoverable blow on Lap 50. Racing to the inside of Harvick, Bowyer’s Toyota got loose and spun collecting the four-time champion.
Gordon checked up, trying to avoid Bowyer’s car, but the No. 24 Chevrolet swerved into the outside wall in Turn 3. The resulting damage ended any hope of another Brickyard trophy before retirement at the end of the 2015 season.
“It was disappointing. It’s a race. You’re out there pushing hard to get the best finish that you can. I can’t say that I’m too disappointed, overall. I’ve had an amazing career here at Indy. The fans have been spectacular. Today was not the way we would have liked it to end, but that’s the reality and we just deal with it and move on. My memories are always going to be spectacular. Some of the greatest memories of my life are here at Indianapolis.”
The next stop for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series is the tricky triangle at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Penn. The field will consist of 43 drivers in the Pennsylvania 400. Kyle Busch is within reach of the chase qualifying 30th position in points, just 20 points behind Justin Allgaire.