In his first appearance since a sidelining injury at Daytona International Speedway in February, Kyle Busch met with reporters Wednesday afternoon and provided a frame-by-frame video breakdown of the incident in the closing laps of the season-opening XFINITY Series race.
"Obviously, that was a whale of a hit — the hardest I’ve had in NASCAR competition," Busch said of the 90-G impact nearly head-on into a concrete wall.
Siting at the podium with a sneaker on his left foot and a medical boot on his right, Busch walked his guests through the wreck that resulted in a compound fracture of his right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot.
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"As soon as the wreck happened, as soon as I hit, I knew instantly my right leg broke," he said. "I could feel it. It was just a sharp pain."
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver took full blame for the incident that collected 10 cars and led to his injuries.
"From the beginning, the wreck was essentially all my fault," said Busch. "I was being greedy and trying to win the race and push (teammate) Erik Jones and get ourselves to the front so he and I could try and decide the race between ourselves, JGR compadres. It didn’t quite work out that way and, obviously, I injured myself in the process."
After Busch’s step-by-step walk-through of the incident, he made it clear there is no timetable for his return to NASCAR action and that the decision rests with his doctors.
"I can’t get too ahead of myself," he admitted. "The doctors won’t let me."
The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota believes he could be back behind the wheel of a car by the July race at Daytona, but does not want to set that in stone because something could still happen that may set his recovery process back.
"Obviously I’m itching to get back, sooner rather than later, but we have to be smart, too," he said.
Once cleared by his doctors, Busch plans to go test a late model stock car to gauge his abilities inside the car. While it would be ideal to get behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car, that is not a possibility due to NASCAR’s ban on private testing.
Immediately after Busch’s incident, Daytona track president Joie Chitwood III and NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnellannounced plans to cover the wall Busch hit with tire packs and add SAFER barriers there ahead of the track’s July race weekend. Tracks across the NASCAR world have since taken similar steps and promised more protection for the drivers.
"I’m not going to say I’m happy the wall I hit was unprotected. I can’t," Busch said. "That’s just not being honest. Just disappointed that wall is not covered, but I am encouraged by the fact the racetracks have taken the steps they have taken to get that going and in the right direction for driver safety."
Busch realizes mass improvements cannot take place all at once, but reiterated his belief that driver safety needs to be a priority.
"Driver safety needs to be one of those items that is at the top of the list. I think all of us would agree to that," he said. "If there’s a wall that needs a tire barrier, put a tire barrier there. If it needs a SAFER barrier, put a SAFER barrier there. But it can’t be constructed overnight. There’s a timetable there, and I understand that, but we’re all hoping sooner rather than later."
"It stinks to be sitting on the sidelines," he said. "The silver lining is just being home to be with Samantha and prep for our son coming, that’s been the most fun. Although, I’ve just been rolling around in the wheel chair and now I’m finally able to get to my feet, not carrying a whole lot of load yet, but it’s been good."
Busch admitted there have been moments he and Samantha have cried on each other’s shoulders, and it was "very difficult" in the beginning, but they have dealt with what has come their way.
Busch praised their efforts and commended all they have done, given the uncertain circumstances presented to them.
"I can’t say enough for Matt Crafton and David Ragan for being able to step up into this situation," he said. "It’s crazy to think that Crafton just got home and was just laying his head down on the pillow to go to bed and he got a call to come back to Daytona to go race in the Sprint Cup Series race in his first start in the Daytona 500. He did a great job.
"David Ragan, to be able to come in as a substitute driver and be able to participate with the best of the JGR drivers here, he’s done a great job," Busch said. "To be honest with you, I think we as a company still may be behind a little bit, but David Ragan is 10th in points right now. The kid’s doing a fine job. He may not be lighting the world on fire, but he’s doing exactly what he needs to be doing for this team."
Kyle and Samantha both indicated the support from the NASCAR community has been overwhelming from the start. Tony Stewart was the first to visit Busch in the hospital after the Daytona 500, staying two to three hours, and many others have come to their home to visit, send well-wishes and offer a helping hand.
The recovery process is far from over for Busch, however. The 29-year-old revealed he would have surgery in December to remove plates and screws from his left foot. However, in the meantime, Busch is continuing his rehab process and working closely with the team in an effort to help the No. 18 team succeed in his absence.