Kurt Busch still has not yet been cleared by doctors as his career remains prematurely curtailed because of lingering effects from a concussion suffered in a wreck during qualifying last summer at Pocono Raceway.
Busch, 44, instead is now a de facto consultant for his old 23XI Racing team and Toyota. He counseled Travis Pastrana at the Daytona 500. He championed crew chief Billy Scott as the next Chad Knaus, and Busch has thrown his arms around anyone in the garage who needs advice. He’s chatted up sponsors and is doing the grunt work needed to make the gears turn on the team co-owned by Michael Jordan.
He just can’t race. Busch is still walking out of a fog from the blunt impact his brain absorbed in the crash. He has vowed to race in a competitive series again — even if a Cup Series ride is out of reach.
“When you look at the therapist, and he’s looking back at you, there’s work to be done,” Busch said. “That’s really all I can give you.”
Busch is hopeful a new physical therapy program designed to strengthen balance and eye movement will aid in a full recovery. Until then, Busch keeps pushing in a journey without a true finish line in sight.
“Go-karting has been fine for me, the simulator has been fine,” Busch said. “It’s just when I had my head in the headrest and there’s that movement, that bothers me.”
Last July, in what should have been a routine qualifying lap on the 2½-mile track in Pennsylvania, Busch lost control as his No. 45 Toyota slid up the track and the right rear slammed square into the wall.
The car whipped around and the nose violently tagged the wall, as well.
Busch apologized over the radio and then waved to the crowd to signal he was OK as he walked to the waiting ambulance. He hasn’t been inside a Cup car for a race since.
Busch told The Associated Press he was told the rear hit registered at a brain-rattling 30 G’s — modern fighter pilots pull a G-force of about nine — and the front smacked the wall at 18 G’s, numbers that raised concerns about safety in the Next Gen cars.
“The wreck might not look like it wasn’t that violent. But primal fear is — I leaned forward knowing I was backing into the fence,” Busch said, as he pulled his hands to his head. “If you feel fear coming from behind, you lean away. So I exaggerated the hit by leaning forward and that 30 G’s backward was something I never felt before. I don’t remember the right front hit. That’s when things got serious in the infield care center.”
Busch, the 2004 Cup champion who won 34 races in 776 starts over 23 years, said his examination in the moments after the wreck turned scary when he couldn’t stand up straight. Busch also couldn’t answer questions from doctors about the impact of the front collision.
“There’s huge progress,” Busch said. “But to race with the best of the best, I’m not 100 percent and I feel it.”
Busch has conceded that the 2023 season would have been his last one anyway.
“I see him doing a lot of different things and looking at his schedule and talking with some of the folks around him, he is somewhere doing something every day,” said Kyle Busch, his younger brother. “He is fine off the track, as much as it can be inside a Busch’s head anyway.”