INDIANAPOLIS — A day after suffering a broken right leg and left foot in a Feb. 21 crash at Daytona International Speedway, Kyle Busch had his first hospital visitor.
It was Tony Stewart, who had been sidelined in August 2013 by a sprint car accident that had caused a compound fracture of his right leg.
As Busch’s mind raced through possible dire consequences of his injuries, Stewart was there to offer support and counsel.
“Tony was actually the first one to the hospital,” Busch said Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at The Brickyard (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “As soon as the Daytona 500 was over, he was there. He actually told everybody that was on his plane that they were going to wait. He was there for about four hours. We had a good talk.
“We had a good discussion about just what it was like and the process that he had to go through and how long it was probably going to be or what it was going to be. In all reality, our injuries were the same but entirely different. His was much more severe than mine. Just being able to talk with him, my mind-set was OK.”
Stewart helped allay Busch’s fears that his injury might be career-ending.
“At first I was like, ‘I’m never going to race again, and I don’t know what I’m going to do’ — all those things go through your mind,” Busch said. “You just continue to power through and listen to your doctors and those that are around you and, of course, my wife and the support system that I had.
“I wouldn’t call it painless. There was certainly a lot of pain, but it went really, really well as far as you could say any injury healing goes. I was pretty pleased with everything.”
If recent results are any indication, Busch has returned stronger than ever. He has won three of the last four Sprint Cup events, at Sonoma, Kentucky and New Hampshire.
SUNDAY WILL TELL THE TALE
Aric Almirola echoed the sentiments of the vast majority of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, asserting that the full import of the new high-drag package introduced for Sunday’s race at The Brickyard won’t be known until the green flag waves to start the race.
In three practice sessions totaling 4 hours, 45 minutes on Friday, Cup drivers avoided running in close quarters. Accordingly, they won’t know the effects of the new aerodynamic package until they get a chance to race in heavy traffic.
“We were going slower down the straightaways, which means we were on throttle more in the corners,” Almirola said Saturday morning, after he and sponsor Eckrich presented U.S. Army veteran Luther Martin and his family with a new Ford Fusion and free groceries for a year as part of Eckrich’s participation in Operation Homefront.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see how the race plays out on Sunday. Any time you go and drive your car by yourself, you can kind of get the balance close, and you can get an idea of what your car is going to drive like. But when the green flag drops for the race is when you’ll really be able to tell if it’s an improvement for the racing or not.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON ISN’T SWEATING CONTRACT STATUS
The driver and crew chief who have combined for six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles — including a record five in a row — are both in contract years.
But Jimmie Johnson doesn’t appeared worried about his future at Hendrick Motorsports. In fact, during a question-and-answer session with reporters at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet had to be reminded that his deal is up at the end of 2015.
“We still have … is it next year on my contract?” Johnson asked coyly. “I don’t even know. We are obviously not concerned. We have been getting things buttoned up with (sponsor) Lowe’s, with Hendrick, with (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and myself — all of that.
“Like I said, I’m home (at Hendrick). It’s just a formality at this point to get everything kind of finished up and done.”