Busch battles back from leg injuries to be crowned NASCAR Cup champion

At the start of the season, nobody gave Kyle Busch a chance to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, given the fact he watched the Daytona 500 from a Daytona Beach hospital bed. Busch overcame his injuries, then overcame a stellar group of stock-car competitors to reach the championship table at Friday’s Cup Series Awards Ceremonies.

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

“It’s been truly remarkable,” Busch said.

The 30-year-old driver broke his left foot and right leg after his car smashed into an inside retaining wall at Daytona International Speedway 10 laps from the finish of the Speedweeks Xfinity race on the day before the 500.

Busch missed the first 11 Cup Series races of the season, returning May 24 for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Soon after, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France ruled that if Busch won a race and was among the top 30 in points by the end of the regular season, he could participate in the Chase playoffs.

The order seemed daunting if not impossible.

In his fifth start of the season, at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, Busch got that win, then for good measure scored three more in his next four Cup starts.

He made it through to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway with consistent finishes then earned the crown by winning the Ford EcoBoost 400, just one position in front of 2014 champion Kevin Harvick.

It’s the stuff of fairytales.

Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, became the first driver in NASCAR’s modern history (since 1972) to win the championship without starting every race on the schedule.

Not only that, but he nabbed Toyota’s first championship since the car maker joined the series in 2007. Toyota has poured millions and millions and millions of dollars into this effort and only found success after partnering with Gibbs.

Fittingly, it was Busch who scored Toyota’s first Cup Series victory in 2008 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The championship put Busch in elite company. Busch and his brother Kurt join Terry and Bobby Labonte as the only brothers to earn Cup Series titles. Kurt won his in 2004, the first year the Chase playoffs were introduced.

It’s been a whirlwind experience for Kyle Busch, who has been a Cup regular since 2005 when he joined up with Hendrick Motorsports, where he got the boot two years later to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Everybody knows Busch can drive a race car. But nobody expected to see him at the champion’s table in Las Vegas.

“I don’t know that anybody could have ever dreamt of this year especially, but to have dreamt of my career path the way it’s kind of gone, it’s certainly amazing to have the opportunity right now to be in this position with Joe Gibbs,” Busch said.

Gibbs boasts four Cup championships with three drivers.

“It’s a thrill,” Gibbs said. “It’s been 10 years since we won one.”

Now that the 2015 season is officially over, Busch is scheduled to head back into the operating room on Dec. 17 to have the metal hardware extracted from his foot and leg.

The leg surgery will be the most dramatic.

“Just having to re-go through the knee and to cut the knee open again in order to pull the rod out, that’s going to be the most traumatic part,” he said.

He will be in rehab right up to the start of 2016 Daytona Speedweeks.

Before heading back to the hospital, Busch plans to just enjoy the moment and soak in his accomplishments.

“It’s definitely caught up with everyone saying ‘champion’ or calling me ‘champ’ or introducing me as the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion,” Busch said. “I’ve heard it a lot this week, and it’s really, really awesome to hear that. I’m pumped and couldn’t be more elated.”