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Don't call Kyle Busch lucky, but his New Hampshire win was fortunate

LOUDON, N.H. -- Kyle Busch can't call himself a lucky man in 2015. Maybe blessed. Maybe fortunate. But not lucky. Not yet.

When a driver misses 11 races to recover from a devastating injury and then has wrecks in two of his first three points races after returning, he can't consider the year as a lucky one.

But there are times when, as the adage goes, luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

And in that sense, Busch has had his share of at least racing luck in the past four weeks. He prepared himself well for his comeback, working out and pushing himself as much as his body allowed during the three months of agony after breaking his right leg and left foot.

He's not 100 percent healthy. But a driver doesn't need to be in order to capitalize on opportunity.

Busch, known for taking calculated risks on the race track and turning many of those into winning moves, took another one Sunday afternoon in the 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Battling fiercely to get back on the lead lap after an unscheduled pit stop, he made a daring pass of Brad Keselowski and then got by Kevin Harvick to get back on the lead lap just before the caution came out with 59 laps remaining.

That move allowed Busch to stay out under caution to assume the lead and he hammered the gas to cruise to his third win in four races and the 23rd of his career.

"What I was racing for at that time was my life, to get back on the lead lap," Busch said. "We needed that. That's when you got to make those moves.

"That's why I say, you don't know what situations are going to come about. You just have to take those moments as they come to you. Really you can't think about it. You just got to react and do the right thing, or hope that it turns out to be the right thing. Fortunately for that situation, it was."

With what appeared as a nearly insurmountable 173-point deficit to 30th in the standings just four races ago, Busch now sits just 58 points out of 30th -- a gap he can easily close over the next seven races to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup as an average finish of 20th likely would make him eligible for the postseason.

"Kyle seems to just be still very, very aggressive," said Busch's boss, team owner Joe Gibbs. "He's not points racing. He's after it. ... They are trying to keep themselves up front and trying to get good finishes.

"Anything can happen in sports. So I'm always nervous about it. You can break a part. You can have wrecks. You can have freaky thunderstorms and stuff that's already happened to us."

Since that freaky thunderstorm race in mid-June in Michigan where Busch spun when it began raining, he has had a fair share of good fortune. If the next race was just a couple of laps longer at Sonoma, his brother Kurt might have beaten him for the win.

At Kentucky last week, Brad Keselowski had one of the best cars but the team had a miscommunication on a pit stop that cost them several laps that knocked them out of contention.

"We had some bad luck on the front side, and certainly some good luck here today [and] certainly at Sonoma as well," Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said. "It feels good. You feel like the scales are starting to balance out for you and for this team and Kyle himself."

The scales certainly weighed against him the first four months of the 2015 season, which started with Busch breaking his right leg and left foot Feb. 21 in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona.

He missed the first 11 races, and NASCAR waived the rule that he had to compete in each race to make the Chase. But NASCAR didn't waive the rule he had to be top-30 in points, so while few doubted he could win a race, that top-30 plateau didn't appear easy at all.

Now it looks like a virtual lock. In fact, Busch can be more true to form, not having to worry as much about points racing. A bad finish might make the quest to 30th a little more stressful, but it shouldn't be anything he can't come back from.

Given Busch that had won three of the past four races, there shouldn't be as much talk about whether he'll make the Chase. It's whether he could win the Chase. Look at the drivers who finished behind him: Past Cup champions Keselowski and Harvick were second and third. Four other 2015 Chase competitors -- Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards -- finished third through sixth.

"He's good, but we're a good team, too," Keselowski said. "I feel like we can beat him."

That response by Keselowski shouldn't surprise anyone. Not only is he rivals with Busch, he might have had the best car in each of the past two weeks yet went home empty handed. Untimely cautions didn't help him, and lapped traffic was particularly a bear for him as he tried to reel in Busch late in the race Sunday.

Both Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske seemed to be a tick behind the top Hendrick and Stewart-Haas Racing cars earlier in the season. That's what made Busch's win and Keselowski's loss so emotional.

"We've had some struggles over the last couple of months," Keselowski crew chief Paul Wolfe said. "And to come out the last couple of weeks as strong as we have and not get it done is tough."

When Busch was injured, Denny Hamlin joked that Busch might not have wanted to come back considering how far off JGR seemed to be earlier this year.

He apparently came back at the right time. And is seizing the opportunity.

"This is pretty special," Busch said. "This is something that I'm not sure we ever would have expected -- Adam, myself, Joe, the team, anybody, the organization for that matter.

"It certainly is nice. It certainly has been a perfect storm, if you will -- you know, to come back, to get back into fast racecars. That's what has meant the most."