INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Busch’s incredible comeback rolled through Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Busch won the Brickyard 400 on Sunday for a weekend sweep at the historic track.
Busch missed the first 11 races of the season with a broken right leg and broken left foot. He returned in late May and has won three consecutive Sprint Cup Series races and four of the last five.
Now he has a prestigious Brickyard victory to give him one of NASCAR’s elusive crown jewels. His Indianapolis victory ranks alongside his Southern 500 win at Darlington Raceway as the biggest of his career.
“Maybe I found my happy place,” Busch said in victory lane when asked if he has found a new perspective since he was injured in a crash the day before the season-opening Daytona. 500.
Busch, who also won the second-tier Xfinity Series race Saturday at Indianapolis, moved 23 points away from cracking the top 30 in the standings. NASCAR granted him a waiver that will make him eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship should he be ranked inside the top 30 in points.
“We’re a championship contending team, we just need to be championship eligible,” Busch said.
The win for Joe Gibbs Racing was the first Sprint Cup Series victory at Indianapolis for Toyota. Chevrolet had entered the race on a 12-year winning streak and had won 16 of the 21 Brickyards.
The manufacturer also won the Indianapolis 500 in May with Roger Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya. But Penske was denied his first Brickyard 400 win when Joey Logano finished second to Busch on Sunday in a Ford.
“Geez, I guess Kyle’s back,” Daytona 500 winner Logano said. “It’s just so frustrating running second at the Brickyard. Second hurts.”
Busch knows that all too well. He finished second in two of the previous three Brickyards.
Kevin Harvick was third in a Chevrolet, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Busch teammate Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. Matt Kenseth, another Gibbs driver, was seventh, followed by Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson.
Penske driver Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.
Two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart was strong early but strategy backfired on the Indiana native and he finished 28th.
Jeff Gordon slid into the No. 24 for the final time with a car more fit for a junkyard than the Brickyard.
His shot at a record sixth win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway over, Gordon could only watch with a blank stare as his team hammered, welded and duct taped the mangled remains of his Chevrolet into shape for the final laps of the race.
And of his career at Indy.
Gordon’s career at the track spanned from first-to-almost worst as NASCAR’s only five-time winner at the Brickyard limped to a 42nd-place finish on Sunday.
“It’s not the way we want our day to go here,” Gordon said.
Gordon was feted last week with a parade last in his old home of nearby Pittsboro, where he attended high school and pursued his racing career. It was the first stop of a farewell tour this week that had earmarked victory lane as the final destination.
Gordon tried to avoid Clint Bowyer and spun out about 50 laps in and connected with the outside wall. He parked the car on pit road as his crew furiously worked to fix the damage. He returned three laps down before he was forced to garage for more repairs, unable to maintain the minimum speed of 58.11 mph on track
Gordon’s uncensored rant was heard over the radio, his crew chief helpless to get any extra oomph out of the car.
“It’s wrecked buddy, I don’t know what to tell you,” Alan Gustafson said.
His arms folded, Gordon occasionally glanced at the broadcast feed on a hand-held device in the garage as the race roared on behind him.
The track’s public address announcer kept fans clued in on Gordon’s whereabouts.
“Right now, Jeff Gordon is listed behind the wall.”
“We’re still hoping to see Jeff Gordon on track one more time!”
Gordon made it back out to salvage some points, a crushing blow in his pursuit of a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth. Gordon is winless in his final full season and will need a checkered flag over the final six races before the cutoff to make the 16-driver field.
Gordon, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, announced in January he plans to retire from full-time racing and become part of Fox’s broadcasting crew in 2016.
“I feel like it all started here, almost,” Gordon told Hendrick before the race.
They shook hands and hugged. The 43-year-old Gordon hugged son Leo and rubbed daughter Ella’s head before he eased into the car. His wife, Ingrid, smiled nearby.