“To think that he could go through what he went through early this year at Daytona and all of the heartbreak that went with that… I think it’s a special sports story,” said Joe Gibbs, winning car owner of the 2015 Brickyard 400.
Indeed, comeback stories, such as that of Kyle Busch this season, are the stuff of movies and rehashed at end-of-year recaps when detailing the best sports stories of the year.
After missing the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup Series due to injuries to his right leg, left leg and left foot sustained in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Busch has come back red hot, winning three of the last four most recent races on the schedule, including Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
You already knew all of that. Chances are, even if you didn’t watch the race from Indianapolis, you’ve certainly heard that, yes, Busch won again and swept both of the weekend’s races at the historic racetrack (Busch won the Xfinity Series race on Saturday). It’s not often that drivers are able to so — dare I say “easily” — pick up where they left off after returning from a hiatus, no matter the circumstances. It’s so easy to get behind and have to play catchup with the competition even when the circumstances are good, let alone when a competitor is making a return. In a sport where seconds matter, you don’t have to be far off to be far off.
You also probably know that Busch’s Chase eligibility is now well within reach, as he sits a mere 23 points out of the top 30 in points. Busch had two goals in mind when he returned to competition: win a race and make it into the top 30 in points. If he did those two things, NASCAR would waive the rule that states a driver must (attempt to) compete in all championship points events to be eligible for the Chase.
After four races reaching Victory Lane, goal one is already completed. It is because of the success achieved in goal one that goal number two is now much more attainable.
“I don’t have any doubts, but we’re still not there, and even if we did get there, we still have got to be able to protect that spot and make it into the Chase,” Busch said in post-race interviews. “Whether we get into the Chase and become Chase eligible next week or the week after or the week after that, it doesn’t matter as long as it comes post-race Richmond. That’s all that matters. Whether we get in and whether we continue to grow and get top 25, none of that matters, just us being able to achieve the top-30 rule and get as many wins as possible in order to [get] the top seed come Chase time.”
Indeed, that truly is the only goal now, and one that is reachable. In fact, I would almost go so far as to wonder which race Busch finally climbs into the top 30, not if it happens at all.
However, no one is debating whether or not Busch can make it into the top 30. Very few are debating if he will. The debate seems to be centered around whether or not this debate should even be a discussion at all. Busch missed 11 races, after all. Why should he still be eligible to compete for a championship? In fact, this very argument was brought up to Busch post-race and he was reminded that this position was one that many fans are taking.
“I don’t care what people say,” Busch said. “We’re a team, and we work together as a team, and we’re going to go out here and do what we can to bring Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, Skittles, M&M’s, Monster Energy, Pedigree, Snickers, all of our partners, a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”
Of course, Busch didn’t just leave it at that.
“They pay me to be behind the wheel, and unfortunately due to injury I wasn’t able to attend the first 11 races of the season,” Busch continued. “It’s not like I didn’t want to be there but my team was still there, and we’re going to go on and compete for a championship, and if we win a championship, then it’s not that they’re going to take it away from me. It is what it is. As far as right now, Tom Brady is going to be suspended for the first four games of the season, and then he’s probably going to go on and compete for a championship and might even win the Super Bowl and I doubt anybody is going to take away a Super Bowl championship from that gentleman, so more power to him.”
In other words, why should his No. 18 team be punished for Busch’s absence when they have been working towards this goal all season long? If one member of the team is absent, the whole team isn’t deemed ineligible as a result.
Additionally, there is not one other team out there that deserves to be in the Chase more than Busch based on performance that isn’t already there anyway. There is no team that is going to get screwed over on a technicality or an exception if (and when) Busch makes it in. Should Busch knock a driver out of the Chase, it is almost certainly going to be someone who is winless and was at the cusp of missing the 16-driver field in the first place. Can you make a compelling case that a driver with four wins deserves to be in the Chase less than a driver who is 16th in points with zero wins? Partial season or not, that’s just nonsense. If the sport truly is about wins as fans, competitors, and NASCAR alike claim, then not only does Busch deserve it more than the lower-level Chase drivers, he has earned his spot more rightfully than most who are already locked in. Considering that he earned this position in a shorter amount of time than what other teams had, that makes the team more deserving – not less.
The bottom line is that the No. 18 Toyota cannot be punished for losing their driver when they have otherwise put up an exceptional performance and Busch, based on his own wins and results, has more than earned his right to contend. Consider that Busch will likely have the points lead once the Chase resets for the Chase, as he has already tied Jimmie Johnson for the most number of wins this season… with 11 fewer races under his belt.
Love him, hate him, it doesn’t matter. Busch and his race team have absolutely put on a championship-worthy performance. It will ultimately be up to them to earn that title, but they have no doubt earned the right to contend for it.