Rowdy Reigns, Completes Improbable Comeback

Eight months ago, Kyle Busch was laying in a hospital bed. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to come back this season. He didn’t know if he was ever going to be able to race again. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to walk again.

This weekend, Busch was standing on the stage on the start/finish line in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway, hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy. The improbable comeback was complete, and Busch was crowned the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. The biggest accolade to add to his impressive resumé.

The debate raged on and on as to whether you needed to win the race in order to win the championship. And when the checkered flag flew, it was clear that the answer was yes. Brad Keselowski was passed by Busch with seven laps to go on a late race restart, and Busch held off Kevin Harvick, who finished second for a whopping 13th time in 2015, setting the modern-era NASCAR record, to win the race and the championship.

“[This is] a dream of a lifetime,” an elated Busch told post-race. “I just can’t believe with everything that happened this year and all the turmoil, all the things that I went through, that my wife [Samantha] went through and the people that are around me went through. This championship is all for these guys, my wife, my family, everyone who has had to sacrifice so much to get me here to this place today, whether it was on my team right now, or on my teams in the past.”

This is Busch’s first career Sprint Cup championship in his 10th full-time season (also the first for Toyota, who entered NASCAR in 2007), but also probably his strangest. It has been well-documented that Busch has overcome adversity in 2015, starting with his injury at Daytona in February in the Xfinity race.

Busch’s No. 54 Toyota hit the inside wall at Daytona International Speedway (a wall with no SAFER barrier) and created a huge impact. Busch immediately knew his leg was broken, as he couldn’t stand up upon exiting the car. He also suffered a broken foot. That was the beginning of the most grueling months of his life.

“The rehab, getting ready and focused, all that was the hardest part and the hardest thing I have ever gone through,” the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Camry said.

Samantha Busch, the champion’s wife, gave an interview to USA Today’s Jeff Gluck, defending her husband from all of the negative people on social media.

“Everybody always said Kyle’s mind wasn’t in it, that he wasn’t quite there [when it came to winning a title],” she said.

But with newborn son Brexton in both of their arms, and the trophy in front of them, the Busch family was right where they wanted to be, and their hard work paid off.

The runner-up to Busch in the race and the championship, Harvick, who has had a storied rivalry with the 2015 champion, could not help but be happy for the driver and his family.

“That’s a great comeback story,” he said, who also added he has “learned not to get greedy” after his 2014 championship, where he thought everything went his way.

As you can see, the storylines were abundant heading into the season finale. The comeback injury and championship from Busch could, and probably will be, overshadowed by Jeff Gordon’s final start in NASCAR. The lead-up to this race was about 95 percent focused on Gordon, as it should have been.

The soon-to-be first ballot hall of famer has the most consecutive starts in NASCAR history, four championships and literally transformed the sport in his “Wonder Boy” days. But Sunday wasn’t the No. 24’s day, as he finished sixth after a surge on the final restart from 10th.

“Well, we all know nothing would have been quite better than the win,” Gordon said. “But I’ve learned a lot in life, and there’s no such thing as a perfect day and a perfect life. Just like there’s no such thing as a perfect race car. They’re really close and good and at times better than the rest, but it doesn’t mean that they’re ever perfect.”

“Just being here and part of my day, to wrap up this amazing career it didn’t take a championship for me to feel like I’m on top of the world,” Gordon said, after embracing his longtime owner Rick Hendrick upon exiting his car for the final time.

Gordon will move to the broadcast booth next season with FOX Sports, starting at Daytona.

Martin Truex Jr. finished 12th in the season-finale, and fourth in the points standings.

“It just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight,” said a dejected, but proud Truex Jr. after the best season of his career.

Truex added that he hopes the alliance with JGR next season can keep him at Furniture Row Racing for the foreseeable future and able to contend for championships.

Some people may say that Busch doesn’t deserve to be crowned the champion because he missed 11 races this season and didn’t compete in as many events as everybody else did.

But you know what I, and many others, have to say to that? Busch is absolutely deserving of the championship. Why? He did what everybody else in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was trying to do — in 11 fewer races.

NASCAR granted him a Chase waiver, and he did what he needed to do in order to get in. He played by the rules given to him, and he succeeded, like it or not.

People also claim that Busch was a new driver, and a new man, coming back from his injury — and I would tend to agree. Becoming a father, becoming more grateful for everything he had in rehabbing from his injury, and becoming a NASCAR champion in the highest form of motorsport in North America changed him.

“This is just a dream come true,” Busch said after exiting his car.

Wake up, Kyle. This dream is reality, and you are the 2015 champion.