When Kyle Busch crawled out of his Toyota under the lights of Homestead-Miami after clinching his first Sprint Cup championship, something unusual happened. Busch, who would never before have been mistaken for one of the most popular drivers in the sport, was met with a rousing reception from the fans.
It was indeed a new day for both NASCAR and Busch. The sport got a new champion and the driver that at one time relished the role of being the sport’s unofficial villain suddenly found himself on the receiving end of approval by the fans. It was a different Kyle Busch who faced the media in victory lane that day. He was not only the series champion, but he was also the fans’ champion.
His road to the title was anything but smooth. He watched from the hospital as the season got underway at Daytona after suffering a broken leg and foot the day before in the Xfinity race. Those injuries forced him to miss 11 of the 26 regular season races, but NASCAR granted him a wavier that allowed him to continue his quest for a berth in the Chase.
It was a long hard road to recovery that was helped along by Kyle’s wife, Samantha, who was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Between returning to the track and being able to take part in the birth of his child, he had all the motivation he needed to overcome the injuries. Once he returned it was as if his attitude had also been rehabilitated, as the once volatile driver began showing signs of mellowing.
Kyle was now able to handle some very disappointing finishes early in his return and remained positive when talking to the press about his car and crew. He also learned to accept the finishes that came his way as his focus shifted to the entire season instead of the checkered flag that waved after each race.
This new approach to racing served him well. He was able to advance through the early rounds of the Chase without winning a race and, when he needed a checkered flag, he was able to make it to victory lane. No longer was he the chance-taking, get-tothe front driver who had struggled in his previous appearances in the Chase. This was now a driver with a team that knew what it needed to do in order to win the championship.
Kyle and his family, along with his Joe Gibbs Racing family, will go to Las Vegas this week to be honored for their championship at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet. This will be the fourth time that team owner Joe Gibbs has had the honor of sitting at the head table. Gibbs also won one championship with Bobby Labonte and two with Tony Stewart.
Kyle will now become the face of the sport as its champion and will be asked to represent it in the months ahead. But that will have to wait as he is scheduled to have surgery sometime the week after the banquet. To have the plates and screws removed from his left foot and the rod removed from his right leg. The rod is being removed as a preventive measure so there would be no complications if he was involved in another crash.
His recovery is expected to take about four weeks, but there should be no problem when it is time to go Daytona in February to begin the defense of his title. All of the adversity Bush faced winning his first title should serve him well as he once again begins the long and what he hopes is a smoother road to another title.