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Kurt Busch supporting Simon Pagenaud during recovery from ‘similar’ injuries

NASCAR: Coke Zero Sugar 400

Aug 26, 2023; Daytona Beach, Florida, USA; Kurt Busch address s the media after announcing his retirement prior to the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt Busch announced his retirement from NASCAR last month (David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Recently retired NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch has offered his assistance to 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud as both continue their recovery from head injuries.

“He sounds driven to want to move forward with it,” Busch told NBC Sports. “I believe in him. ... His marketing and scheduling agency is the same as mine, so I was able to get his phone number very quickly. I’ve communicated with him, texts, phone calls, even things with his wife to add in where I can help and to offer different doctors I’ve seen and procedures I’ve gone through.

“But his injury is very similar.”

Pagenaud was involved in a spectacular practice crash July 1 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. His No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Dallara-Honda sailed off course in Turn 4 on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course, went full speed into the grass and barrel-rolled 6-1/2 times before stopping upside down near the tire barrier.

Pagenaud was able to climb from the car but has been sidelined since with his future racing prospects in doubt.

Busch can relate to what Pagenaud is experiencing. The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series Champion suffered a concussion in a July 23, 2022 crash at Pocono Raceway when his car hit the Turn 3 wall during qualifying.

Busch never returned to a Cup car. He announced late last year he was stepping back from racing while he recovered. He announced at Daytona last month that he was retiring from NASCAR Cup Series racing as a driver and would continue to work with 23XI Racing as an advisor and driver coach.

NBC Sports asked Busch last weekend before the NASCAR Cup Series race Sept. 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway (where he was honored as a special guest) about Pagenaud’s injury and what advice he has for the driver from France as he continues his recovery.

“It’s a life-changing sequence,” Busch told NBC Sports. “There is the fear of the unknown, and you are in uncharted waters. Everyone has different developments that led to it whether it is the quantity of wrecks or the amount of impacts.

“It’s one day at a time, which is very, very difficult. Physical therapy. The rehab side of it.

“Doctor visits. Doctor visits. Doctor visits.

“It’s very tough. Then if you have too many doctors, it’s like too many cooks in the kitchen, it gets you side-tracked for a while.”

Busch has learned quite a bit about head injuries during his recovery and subsequent work with specialists.

“Working with different neurologists, I’ve learned there are six different major types of concussions and then there are 20 to 30 different variants of each,” Busch explained. “Age can come into play. The violent accident that is the final one where you can’t pass the concussion protocol. Then there is the quantity of wrecks that add up over time.

“There is no playbook that says you broke your arm, and you will be back in 3-6 weeks. A guy like Aaron Rodgers just tore up his (Achilles) and is his recovery the same as someone younger?

“We don’t know.”

“I would love to be back in the car, but my perspective and taking a couple steps back and being able to digest everything I’ve done for 25 years, I’m having a lot more fun with this right now than what I thought I would.”

Busch and Pagenaud both live in an area north of Charlotte, North Carolina, and previously raced against each other in the 2014 Indy 500 (Pagenaud finished fifth, just ahead of Busch, who was sixth for Andretti Autosport as the Rookie of the Year).

With his NASCAR career over, Busch has reached a level of calm acceptance.

“I would love to be back in the car, but my perspective and taking a couple steps back and being able to digest everything I’ve done for 25 years, I’m having a lot more fun with this right now than what I thought I would,” Busch told NBC Sports.

Follow Bruce Martin at @BruceMartin_500