Kyle Busch goes the distance in first points race since injuries

Kyle Busch made his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series one week ago in the Sprint All-Star Race, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had a much larger challenge in front of him Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Racing in his first points-paying event of the year, Busch returned to the seat for the longest race of the season.

However, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota was impressive in his return and did not show any left over effects of injuries sustained in an accident at Daytona International Speedway in February.

In fact, Busch was a factor at the front of the field for the majority of the 600-mile event, finishing the night 11th.

Recovering from a compound fracture of the right leg and a mid-foot fracture of the left foot in just three months, Busch said he was "a little surprised" he felt as good as he did at the end of the night. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the Sprint Cup season after suffering his injuries during a wreck in the XFINITY Series season opener at Daytona in February.

"I was expecting to be a little bit more beat up and tired, but honestly, I’m not," Busch said after going the distance in Sunday’s race. His team kept possible relief driver Erik Jones on the pit box all night in case Busch said he couldn’t finish the race, but it was never an issue.

While he was pleased with how he felt, Busch was not particularly thrilled with the night’s results.

After running up front for the majority of the race, Busch ended the night 11th after fuel mileage became a determining factor at the end of the race.

"You know, it certainly is frustrating to finish where we did," he said. "That’s disappointing. But sometimes you do win these things by fuel‑mileage races, so congratulations to our teammates, Carl (Edwards) and Matt (Kenseth). They finished up front there."

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With the 11th-place finish, Busch now sits 41st in driver standings. In order to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup that determines the season’s champion over the final 10 races, he will need to make his way into the top 30 in the standings and earn a victory over the remaining 14 races that makes up the regular season.

Despite his three JGR teammates already being locked in the Chase, Busch said the team would not go out of its way to get him locked into the 16-driver field.

"I think it’s against the rules last time I checked for a teammate to pull over for you to win a race, so we don’t want to do any of that stuff," he said.

Busch’s challenges are certainly not over as he continues to recover from his injuries. While 600 miles at Charlotte is tough, next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway is one of the most physically demanding on drivers.

"The Dover race is more taxing on your body. I feel like it beats you up a bit more, but it being 400 laps, it’s a tough stretch," he said. "It’s maybe not 600 miles, but 400 laps there is certainly a long time at Dover."

To prepare for the next test, Busch will rest on Monday before hitting it hard with his physical therapists on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Dover.

"Try not to get behind and keep building it up, keep getting it better, and every time I get in the race car, every time I get in the gym, everything seems to come along a little bit better and make life and daily walking and stairs and everything easier, so you might as well not quit," he said.