Concord, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Kyle Busch drove his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the first time in Friday's practice session for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway since he suffered injuries in an accident at Daytona International Speedway nearly three months ago.
Of the 17 drivers who participated in the 90-minute all-star practice session, Busch turned the fastest lap at 188.884 mph. Seventeen drivers, including Busch, are presently eligible for the all-star race, which is scheduled for Saturday (9 p.m. ET). The winners of the two segments in Friday night's Sprint Showdown preliminary event as well as the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote, to be announced following the conclusion of the Sprint Showdown, will fill the remaining three positions in the 20-car field for the all-star race.
On Feb. 21, Busch sustained a fractured right leg and left foot when his car slammed head-on into an inside retaining wall during the closing laps of the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. The wall did not have an energy-absorbing (SAFER) barrier installed on it. Busch underwent two surgeries to repair his broken bones. He had missed the first 11 Sprint Cup Series races this season.
During practice, Busch made 45 laps around this 1.5-mile track. His quickest lap occurred just moments before the session ended. He had no discomfort while in the car.
"It felt really good," Busch said during a press conference held after practice. "I was optimistic about coming back and getting in some laps here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I was excited to get back in (the No. 18 car). I was just trying to get a feel for the seat, the car and being back behind the wheel. It's been a while.
"As far as I was concerned, it felt like everything went according to plan. We had some decent speed in race-trim. And then we made some adjustments to it for a mock qualifying run. I was able to put a fast time up to get to the top of the sheet. I was definitely excited to see that speed, and hopefully we can see that again tomorrow night."
Qualifying for the all-star race is scheduled for Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
On Tuesday, Busch announced his return to competition, beginning with this weekend's all-star race. He had received medical clearance from NASCAR on Monday. Busch recently practiced in a Late Model car. He chose the all-star race since it is a non-points event and is shorter in distance (110 laps/165 miles). This event is also divided into five segments, with each of the first four segments 25 laps in length and the final one a 10-lap shootout to the finish.
The next Sprint Cup points race is the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, which is the longest NASCAR event of the season.
NASCAR revealed on Wednesday that it has granted Busch a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship waiver, meaning he will be eligible to make this year's playoffs if he wins one of the remaining 15 regular season races and holds a top-30 position in the driver point standings when the regular season concludes (Sept. 12 at Richmond).
"I think it's great," Busch said. "Obviously, it gives us a legitimate chance to try to qualify for the Chase and to be able to race for a championship. That's all you could ask for. It seems as though the rest of the drivers are happy with the ruling. I think they would accept the same ruling for themselves if they were in that situation. I'm ready to tackle the challenge. I know it's not going to be easy."
Tony Stewart is currently 30th in the standings, with 179 points accumulated for the season. First-place Kevin Harvick has 437 points.
The maximum amount of points a driver can score in a single race is 48, which includes two bonus points for leading the most laps.
Busch, who turned 30 years old on May 2, and his wife, Samantha, are expecting their first child -- a boy -- within the next few days.
"When I left the house (on Friday morning), I told her to make sure that she does everything the best she can to keep her legs crossed today and tomorrow, and that we keep baby Busch inside for at least another 48 more hours," Busch jokingly said.