Kyle Busch discusses Daytona wreck
April 15, 2015, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Kyle Busch walked, gingerly, to a director's chair Wednesday afternoon in making his first media appearance since his severe crash nearly two months ago at Daytona International Raceway, a step slower than he used to be, but counting himself fortunate to be walking at all.
"I'm thankful that it wasn't worse than what it was," Busch said more than once during his 55-minute session, grateful to be in improving health.
Busch, speaking at the headquarters of his Joe Gibbs Racing team, held his first news conference since suffering multiple leg fractures in a crash Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway in the season-opening race for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Despite his frustration at being out of action and lacking a firm timetable for a return to the seat of his No. 18 Toyota, Busch was in lifted spirits as he continues to make strides in his rehabilitation.
"First and foremost, I've got to please my doctors, and they say my recovery is going faster than they expected," Busch said. "They won't release me a timetable. It's week by week and what I can show them I can do."
Before addressing questions, the 29-year-old driver -- who has since undergone two surgeries and extensive physical therapy since the accident -- conducted a nearly frame-by-frame analysis of his frightening wreck, talking openly and in painstaking detail about the circumstances that have sidelined one of stock-car racing's biggest stars.
Busch, winner of 141 NASCAR national series races, was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a broken left foot in a wild, multicar crash in the late stages of the XFINITY Series opener at Daytona. His JGR No. 54 Toyota veered off course onto the infield grass and into a concrete retaining wall -- located on the track's interior, lining the short chute from the tri-oval area to Turn 1 -- at nearly a head-on angle.
In an eerie coincidence that he said might seem "absolutely bona fide crazy," Busch said he looked to his left during the warm-up laps, noticing the first time the same area that he would hit 111 laps later.
"I saw the tire wall, and I was like, 'wow, I never really noticed it over there,' " Busch recalled. "Then I saw the wall that was unprotected and I'm like, 'Man, if somebody hits that, that's really going to hurt.' I mean, that happened -- I'm not crazy."
RELATED: Busch breaks down Daytona wreck | See video of the crash at Daytona
Channeling his inner telestrator in analyzing film of the crash, the chilling specifics emerged. Busch said his car left the course at a speed of 176 mph, hitting the concrete barrier at 90 mph, unleashing a force of 90 Gs on impact -- "a whale of a hit, the hardest I've ever had in NASCAR," he said. With only a split second to react, Busch said he positioned his legs in a way to hopefully minimize the potential injury, but that after the heavy hit, he knew immediately that his leg was broken.
Busch was extracted from the wreck and rushed to nearby Halifax Health Medical Center, where doctors performed surgery on his right leg. After surgery to repair his left foot fracture four days later in a Charlotte-area hospital, Busch went home Feb. 27.
Busch's crash and absence have had several repercussions on the 2015 season, both in the realm of safety and on the Sprint Cup driver roster. After Busch's hit into a concrete wall unprotected by the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier system, Daytona track president Joie Chitwood III vowed to ring his 2.5-mile speedway with energy-absorbing walls, no matter the cost.
Daytona officials added tire-pack barriers to the crash area overnight, in time for the season-opening Daytona 500 for the Sprint Cup Series. Several other tracks on the NASCAR circuit have followed suit in the weeks since the wreck, covering unprotected walls with either tire packs or the SAFER system -- measures that Busch said left him "encouraged."
Busch's departure also triggered a domino effect of interim drivers across the NASCAR garage. Two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton was Busch's late-hour replacement in the No. 18 Toyota for the Daytona 500. David Ragan took temporary leave of his regular ride at Front Row Motorsports in the days that followed, inheriting driving duties for the No. 18 since the series' second race of the season.
HERMAN UNPLUGGED: Busch should sit out 2015
Busch's appearance comes at a time of major life change, as he and his wife, Samantha, await the birth of their first child in mid-May. The couple announced the impending addition to their family last October, then indicated in late November that they were expecting a boy.
While Busch said he's been frustrated at times being outside the race car, the positive flip side has been spending more time at home.
"It's discouraging. It stinks to be sitting on the sideline, but to be honest with you, the silver lining is to be home, to be with Samantha and to prep for our son coming. I think that's been the most fun."
Busch said there was never a doubt that he would try to return to the driver's seat, though at the moment of crash, the thought crossed his mind that the extent of his injury could be career-ending. His left foot remains in a boot, but he demonstrated some of his renewed range of motion in his right ankle, flexing much in the way he'd depress the accelerator behind the wheel.
Busch said his most recent X-ray of his right leg two weeks ago still showed a break, but that healing was progressing. He said his most recent scan of his left foot was even more positive. He said he has a third surgery planned in December to remove plates and screws from his left foot.
Along the way, Busch said he's counted the strides he's made in rehabilitation as "moral victories." While his timetable for working toward medical clearance is on a day-to-day basis, Busch said his doctors have opted for a week-by-week pace in pinpointing his comeback.
"You can't allow yourself to overspeed your return, just based off the fact of knowing that I've got a long career ahead of me, and there's no sense in trying to rush it," Busch said. "But we'll be smart about it when we're able to come back."