Kyle Busch scores a win at Sonoma, is Chase berth next?

Kyle Busch burns out after his first victory of the 2015 season at Sonoma Raceway. Image courtesy of @TheKBShow.
Kyle Busch burns out after his first victory of the 2015 season at Sonoma Raceway. Image courtesy of @TheKBShow.

Kyle Busch burns out after his first victory of the 2015 season at Sonoma Raceway. Image courtesy of @TheKBShow.

Rowdy has officially returned. Not only to the track, but to Victory Lane.

After missing the first 11 races of the season, just getting back on the track after a broken foot and leg seemed like a huge accomplishment. In typical Kyle Busch fashion, the NASCAR phenom wouldn’t just settle for making it back on the track—he had to win.

At Sonoma, a track where he hasn’t scored a top-20 finish since 2012, Busch pulled off the first part in reaching his Chase dreams. But even with a victory at the road course, can Busch really pull off what seemed impossible?

Despite all of the speed bumps in 2015, can the Joe Gibbs Racing driver really make NASCAR’s postseason? He’ll have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way, but Busch still believes.

“Yeah, you know, certainly it’s feasible,” Busch said following his Sonoma breakthrough. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. This team is good enough to be that way, and I should be good enough to be that way. I certainly put us in a hole bigger than it should have been at Dover and at Michigan. Those were entirely just my fault, obviously, and I’ve got to be better than that.

“We can’t have any more of those. That’s obvious. But we’ve just got to be smart about how we race.”

Whether NASCAR fans see him as a hero or a villain—we know where Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans stand—there is no question Busch is one of the top drivers in the sport.

He doesn’t just blister the field on traditional oval tracks, but is also one of the best in the sport at road courses. That shined through on Sunday with his first victory of the season.

What comes next is the difficult part.

Busch needed a win to even be in the conversation for the Chase. Brother Kurt Busch, who finished in second for the first ever Busch brother 1-2 finish, knows all too well that it can be nerve wracking trying to get onto the Grid. After all, Kurt had a must-win situation after he missed the first three races of the season.

“I know he’s been through quite a bit,” Kurt Busch said of his younger brother. “To have your leg broken, your foot shattered, to never be injured and out of the car, I don’t know what that feels like. But I do know that working with Tony Stewart and having him go through rehab; rehab is very difficult, and it is a mental challenge.

“I’m very proud of Kyle for what he’s done to get back in the car as soon as he did get back in the car, and then to be competitive at a track with hard, hard braking and to use his left foot to drive to victory lane, I’m very proud of him.”

Now that he’s returned to Victory Lane, the next stop is a return to where this story started—Daytona. Not only does Kyle have to fight the demons of getting back on the track where he broke his leg and foot, but he also needs another strong finish.

Unlike road courses where only three or four drivers specialize in that style of racing, nearly every driver in the field is a contender at Daytona. Drivers like Ryan Blaney and Casey Mears have captured their only top-10 results at restrictor-plate tracks. Suffice it to say, Kyle has a tall task ahead of him to win another race at Daytona.

“I don’t know what that’s going to be yet,” the JGR driver said. “But I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to getting out there on the racetrack and attacking that demon, per se, and just being able to get out there and get back in the draft and get back in the pack and just work myself to having a good race car for Sunday night.

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge, but let’s go get it.  Why not?”

With three top-two finishes and a win at Daytona over his career, there’s no doubt he can contend for a victory again. In fact, there’s no telling how many wins he can come away with on the trail he’s blazing to return to the Chase this year.

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Doubt might have crept into his mind at Dover and Michigan, but it’s clear Busch has the talent and equipment to actually do this. Look for Busch to compete for wins at tracks such as Kentucky and Darlington, two courses he’s tamed in the past.

If he can capture top fives or come away with a win at those tracks, there’s no telling how quickly Busch can make up the current 136-point deficit between him and 30th-place Cole Whitt.

Hardly anyone doubted Busch when he returned. If he keeps a clean car like he did at Sonoma, expect two Busch brothers in the championship discussion when Chicagoland rolls around.

 

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