Kyle Busch’s Storybook Season Ends With The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championshipby Hunter Thomas November 23, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kyle Busch missed the first 11 races of the season, made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, became one of the Championship 4 and won Sunday night’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to be crowned the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Heading into the 2015 season, Kyle Busch was certainly a favorite for the series championship, but after crashing head-on into the concrete wall at Daytona International Speedway during a NASCAR XFINITY Series race back in February, his championship hopes appeared beyond bleak when he couldn’t climb from the car under his own power.
“When we saw him get out and sit on the door there at Daytona in the XFINITY race, I mean, I didn’t know what kind of shape his legs were in,” said crew chief, Adams Stevens, who was making his debut season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. “I didn’t know if it was going to be this year or next year or if he would walk again. I had no idea. I’m not a doctor and I wasn’t there, and I spent five or six hours in the hospital with Coach and Jimmy and everybody trying to put a plan together and couldn’t even get in to see him. I had no idea how bad a shape he was in.”
The crash broke Busch’s right leg and left foot, sending him on an excruciating road to recovery. With his ride and championship on the line, Busch began getting vertical in his rehab after a mere 10 days from the day he crashed. Not only did Busch have to deal with the struggle of getting back into shape, but he had to get well for his wife Samantha, who was pregnant with baby Brexton.
“But going through the rehab and everything, it was hard,” Busch said. “It was really, really hard. I remember the first time Ken came over, and he says, All right, man, we’re going to try to stand up today, and I was like, ‘You’re joking’. It wasn’t even that I could stand on one foot and just try to put weight through my other one. I had to stand on my broken leg and not put any weight on my left foot because the foot was worse. To just get vertical and get back straight up and down and try to stand, it took me three seconds and I started to see stars and was about ready to black out.”
Fast forward to Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, Kyle Busch topped final Sprint All-Star practice during his first weekend back in competition after missing the first 11 races. The following weekend, he finished 11th in the Coca-Cola 600, mileage wise, the longest race of the year. In June, he visited Victory Lane for the first time this season after winning a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Michigan International Speedway.
“But I think the time in which it really set forth in me was after Michigan,” Busch said. “You know, we had a couple of good races. We were going to finish top-five our first night out at Charlotte, and pit strategy, race went green to the end and didn’t quite work out that way.”
Busch’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the 2015 season came at Sonoma Raceway, a road course that involved more strenuous leg and foot action than an oval-shaped track. Throughout the season, Busch went on to record 13 victories between the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Busch said, “We went to Sonoma, and man, we weren’t the best car there and we weren’t the fastest one there, but I put it in somebody else’s hands and just did what I needed to do behind the wheel, the right breaks went our way, we got on pit road when we needed to, and we won that thing, and it was just like, um, okay. It sort of changed right then and there. It was really exciting for me and for Samantha and this team to know that our biggest obstacle that we thought was going to be the hardest thing for me to do this year was run Sonoma, we won.”
On Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch led 41 laps and held off 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Kevin Harvick for this year’s title. Busch had run up front the entire evening, but as the race started to play out, it was obvious that Harvick was going to be his closest competition.
“Probably from like lap 60 to go I’d say, I guess it was like lap 200, I just had to start singing kind of a tune in my head about trying to forget about some things that were happening and thinking about what could be or what might be,” Busch said. “I just kept singing my son’s favorite cartoon character song. It was trying to take me out of the moment a little bit.”
The song is called Vocabulary, and it although it sounds like a strange technique to help keep focused in a race car reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph, it worked for Kyle Busch. That was until a debris caution on lap 258 came out, bunching the field back together.
“We had an awesome car on the long run,” Busch said. “We had awesome pit stops on pit road that give us a chance to keep spreading our gap to Harvick there late in the game, and then that last caution there towards the end, of course everybody is like, oh, really.
“But fortunately, you know, again, we came down pit road. It was in my guys’ hands at that point whether we were going to fail or succeed, and they succeeded very, very well. They gave me a great pit stop, and then it was back into my hands from there on out from the last restart and the last part of the race.”
With seven laps to go, race leader, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch took the green flag and led the field into Turn 1 with Kyle Larson and championship contender, Kevin Harvick lined up behind them. Busch’s car was strong on the high side, and he was able to take over the lead by the time the field had reached the exit of Turn 4. From there, it was all about staying in front, and that’s exactly what Busch did as he held off Kevin Harvick who was the runner-up. For the second year in a row, the champion ended up having to win the Ford EcoBoost 400.
“Yeah, there was some emotion that came through, crossing the start‑finish line,” Busch said. “Actually coming out of Turn 4, not being crazy, but there was a tear that did go across my cheek because of the G‑forces I was pulling out of Turn 4, and I was like, are you serious? Like wow, and then I crossed the start‑finish line, and I was just so excited and yelling at my team and everything, and then it was like trying to keep it all together and it was starting to fizzle up, and fortunately just ‑‑ I really ‑‑ I don’t know.”
Not only is the championship the first for Kyle Busch, but it’s also the first for manufacturer, Toyota. Busch has been competing for Toyota since the 2008 season, and out of Toyota’s 332 wins throughout NASCAR’s national series, Busch has claimed 133 of them.
“There’s so many firsts to this,” said team owner, Joe Gibbs. “We have M&M’s – it’s their first and they’ve been in racing for 25 years. It’s Toyota’s first and it’s awesome that Bob Carter and everyone is here. We’ve got Kyle’s first. We have Adam’s first – can you believe a rookie crew chief. We have Norm Miller from Interstate Batteries – he’s had two. It’s really a total team effort.”
Prior to Sunday night, the last time Kyle Busch had won a championship in NASCAR’s top-three series dates back to 2009 when he won the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship. As for Joe Gibbs, he now has four (2000, 2002, 2005 and 2015) championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.