-- Kyle Busch missed the first 11 Sprint Cup Series races of the year because of injury, but he won't miss a shot at winning the 2015 Sprint Cup title.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who returns to his car this week for the Sprint All-Star Race, received a waiver Wednesday from NASCAR to remain eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite the rule that requires a driver to compete in each event of the season.
The Chase field consists of 16 drivers -- the regular-season champion plus the next 15 drivers based on wins, with ties broken by points. That basically gets the winner of every race into the Chase unless 16 or more drivers win in addition to the regular-season champion. Plus, a driver who wins a race must finish in the top 30 in points to get into the Chase; this rule prevents a driver with a win from making the Chase after having a bad year overall.
In Busch's case, NASCAR has not waived the top-30 rule, so to make the Chase, he must still have enough points at season's end to be in the top 30 despite his 11-race absence. There are 26 races overall.
"Our decision to grant Kyle a waiver that allows him to continue running for a championship is one we discussed extensively," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said in a news release Wednesday. "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."
There have been eight winners in the first 11 races this year.
Tony Stewart is 30th in the standings with 179 points, 11 points behind Trevor Bayne in 29th. Stewart is on pace to finish the regular season with 423 points, while Bayne is on a 450-point pace. To catch those drivers, Busch would need to average 28 to 30 points per event. On NASCAR's points scale, that would mean finishing on average between 14th and 17th each week, depending on whether he leads a lap or the most laps during a race. Wins add three bonus points.
Last year, Busch averaged 25.3 points per race. Among his teammates this year, Matt Kenseth is averaging 30.1 points per race, while Denny Hamlin is at 25.8 and Carl Edwards is at 24.1. Kenseth and Hamlin each have a win on short tracks.
JGR has started to bring a revised chassis to the track in hopes of being more competitive on the larger speedways.
Busch is still recovering from a broken right leg and a broken left foot suffered in a Feb. 21 crash at Daytona International Speedway. Not only is he behind in points, but he is behind in getting comfortable with the new aerodynamic package this season, and he has a rookie crew chief in Adam Stevens, a former Xfinity Series crew chief for Busch.
"We're going to go through another learning curve in a bit with some of our new cars phased in," Busch said Tuesday. "They're a little different than what we've run the past two years. He and I will both have to transition through that together."
Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, among drivers testing Wednesday at Dover International Speedway, said NASCAR made the right decision.
"If you get injured in our industry, the repercussions are so big," Johnson said. "Even though he is granted a waiver, you just look at what the team has been through -- a couple of different drivers, trying to develop the equipment, ... missed opportunities to win races.
"It's a huge penalty to have an injury. In my opinion, if you can come back and win a race, you deserve to be in the Chase. I don't have a problem with that."