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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch is eligible to compete for the NASCAR championship despite missing the first 11 races this season because he was injured.
NASCAR announced Wednesday it has granted Busch a waiver that would allow the Joe Gibbs Racing star to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Busch will run in Saturday night's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, less than three months after suffering serious injuries when he crashed into a concrete wall at Daytona International Speedway. He has been sidelined since the Feb. 21 crash in the Xfinity Series opener in which he broke his right leg and left foot in an accident that spurred safety reviews throughout NASCAR.
Busch, who is returning to racing this weekend for the exhibition All-Star race in Charlotte, needs a victory in one of the remaining 15 points races and be 30th or better in the standings to qualify.
"I think the top-30 rule makes a lot of sense," Busch said Tuesday in anticipation of the waiver. "In my mind, it was intended for someone in my situation that has a car, sponsor and team that was set to run the entire year for a championship."
NASCAR requires drivers to start every points race to be eligible for the Chase. But the sanctioning body has granted waivers to several drivers — including Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers — after they missed events for different reasons.
"If you can come back and win a race, you deserve to be in the Chase," six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said Wednesday at a Dover International Speedway test session.
Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano also backed NASCAR's decision.
"It's not really his fault he got hurt in the first place," Logano said at Dover. "He's worked hard to get back in the race car. If we race him for a championship at the end of the year, great. I'm not going to say he shouldn't have won it. Those are the rules we've got this year with the Chase."
Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said the decision was discussed extensively.
"The spirit of the rule never was designed to punish drivers who are unable to compete due to extenuating circumstances such as recovering from a racing accident," he said.
Busch's No. 18 Toyota was driven by Matt Crafton at Daytona, then David Ragan for nine events and 18-year-old Erik Jones drove it Saturday night at Kansas.
Busch credited therapy sessions that sometimes spanned six hours for being able to heal ahead of schedule. His accident left him with a rod in his right leg and plates and screws in his left foot. The Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, runs May 24 and the All-Star race this weekend is the perfect warmup event. At just 110 scheduled laps split into segments, Busch felt the pace would be right for his return.
"He's still got to have a great season to make the Chase," Ragan said at Dover. "He's got to win a race, which isn't easy to do. There's still a lot of good guys that haven't won a race in quite some time. He's got to score some pretty good points to get in the top 30."
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