In any other sport, whether it be baseball, football, hockey or what have you, if you are out for nearly three months, chances are that your season of being productive is all but gone. Instead of being out with your teammates and peers, you’re watching from the bench, waiting for your body to heal.
That is exactly the predicament that Kyle Busch found himself in earlier this year. A wreck the day prior to the Daytona 500 cost him a broken leg and a broken foot. He was on the sidelines, in a wheelchair, for 11 weeks as drivers like Matt Crafton, David Ragan and Erik Jones were at the wheel of his car. He needed to wait that long before ever considering returning to driving duties.
NASCAR had elected to give him a medical waiver for Chase eligibility, but with restrictions. He needed to win a race, which normally would move anyone into the Chase field. However, he needed to be in the top-30 prior to the Chase being set in order to make it.
Part one was complete at Sonoma. But part two was still a ways away.
Then came Kentucky, followed by New Hampshire, and then Indianapolis. The resilient “Rowdy” one was back, and locked himself in the Chase before even making it to the final race of the regular season.
But could he do the impossible, could he somehow show that even after missing out on the months of February, March, April and most of May that he could still possibly make it as a champion?
After the Challenger Round, he was in it. After surviving the Contender Round, he made it past the Eliminator Round to be one of the final four going after the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. It was one race to determine the one to take home the biggest prize. The first to the finish line is the one who gets to say “I beat them all.”
For this season, Busch did just that. It took a restart, and some intelligent driving, but when it mattered the most, the M&M’s Crispy Toyota was where it needed to be.
He was the first one to the finish line, literally, taking home the final win of the 2015 season, but also taking home the checkered flag trophy as the Sprint Cup champion. Eight months ago, to the day, he was sitting in a hospital room at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, getting two casts and wondering when or if he would be the same driver he was before. Fast forward to now, and he’s better than he was. Now, he has a new nickname to go by for the next year. That nickname: The champ.
Next week, this column takes a look back, but not at just this season. Instead, it’s a look back at the end of a deserving individual who changed the sport in ways no one would anticipate.
RESULTS: 1-Kyle Busch 2-Harvick 3-Keselowski 4-Logano 5-Larson 6-Gordon 7-Kenseth 8-Kurt Busch 9-Johnson 10-Hamlin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Edwards 12-Truex Jr. 13-McMurray 16-Newman 21-Menard 29-Stewart 40-Earnhardt Jr.
CAUTIONS: 7 for 30 laps. Lap 15-18 (Fluid On The Track); 32-35 (Competition); 41-44 (#5 Accident-T1); 47-53 (#88, 15, 13, 33, 43 Accident-BS); 151-154 (Debris-BS); 168-171 (Fluid On The Track); 258-260 (Debris-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 18 among 8 drivers. D. Hamlin POLE; J. Logano 1-19; Kyle Busch 20-35; J. Gordon 36-44; K. Harvick 45-90; K. Larson 91-92; J. Logano 93-138; Kyle Busch 139; C. Edwards 140-144; J. Logano 145-151; C. Edwards 152-154; Kyle Busch 155-168; M. Truex Jr. 169-171; B. Keselowski 172-214; Kyle Busch 215-216; B. Keselowski 217-257; Kyle Busch 258; B. Keselowski 259-260; Kyle Busch 261-267.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 2 Mins, 23 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 131.755 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.552 Seconds
CHASE STANDINGS: 1. Kyle Busch, 5043 points; 2. Harvick, -1; 3. Gordon, -5; 4. Truex Jr, -11; 5. Edwards, -2675; 6. Logano, -2683; 7. Keselowski, -2696; 8. Kurt Busch, -2710; 9. Hamlin, -2716; 10. Johnson, -2728; 11. Newman, -2729; 12. Earnhardt Jr, -2733; 13. McMurray, -2748; 14. Menard, -2781; 15. Kenseth, -2809; 16. Bowyer, -2868.