ONE: Congrats, Champ
It would be remiss of me not to start the last 5 Points to Ponder of the 2015 season without a hat tip and hearty congratulations to the new champion Kyle Busch, who won a maiden title in what were trying circumstances. A season that encompassed a terrible injury, lengthy rehab, a battle to get into the top 30, a deep run in the Chase for the first time ever and most importantly the birth of his first child, 2015 is a year that the younger Busch brother will never forget (and nor should he). I know there are fans out there who will argue that he doesn’t deserve a championship due to his missing 11 races to start the season, but my counterpoint would be that his path to the title was arguably harder given the hole he found himself in upon his return.
In addition, I would argue that his injury was avoidable. SAFER barriers, or lack thereof, is an unforgivable miss in this day and age of increased safety. Had Busch hit the softer walls would he have still broken his leg and foot? I think likely not. From the moment Busch first started wheeling a Cup car, the collective wisdom was that he would one day win a title. And on Sunday that day finally came. Unquestionably the most talented driver without a title prior to the 400 miles at Homestead-Miami Raceway, Busch is a worthy champion. The real question now is how many more can he win before he hangs up the driving gloves? At just 30 years old time is still on his side. Watch this space, folks.
TWO: Brothers in Arms
With Busch’s Cup title on Sunday, the Busch brothers join the Labonte brothers as the only other set of siblings to both win the big prize. Terry Labonte started it all with his two titles in 1984 and 1996 while younger brother Bobby Labonte took the honors in 2000. Kurt Busch, as many of you will remember, won the inaugural Chase in 2004 with younger brother Kyle getting it done some 11 years later. Just as it was for the Labontes, this is a historic moment for the Busch family and one that might not be equaled for quite some time (there being no obvious options at the time of writing). Tweeted the elder Busch in the aftermath of the race:
I've always considered Kyle a champion. Now he has the trophy to go with it. So proud of my little brother.
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) November 23, 2015
He has every right to feel that way. Given where both brothers were at the drop of the green flag of the Daytona 500 (Kurt suspended, Kyle injured) it really is a remarkable comeback – one for the ages – and a truly great stock car racing story. Parents Tom and Gaye have much to be thankful for this week.
THREE: First Losers
In the end, the two best drivers of the year based on the traditional points system finished up second (Kevin Harvick) and sixth (Joey Logano) respectively. For both wheelmen, it was a bitter end to a year that brought each driver a ton of success. But such are the vagaries of this new playoff system NASCAR has instituted that neither end up with the big prize. For Harvick, it felt like a second place kind of a season given the number of times he finished as first loser, or runner up for those more gently inclined. But for Logano in particular, the sting of defeat may well last long into the offseason. Had he handled the Kansas Speedway contretemps with Matt Kenseth differently, we might be looking at a totally different champion this morning and I really believe this to be true. Last year, Logano essentially lost one at Homestead with multiple pit issues. The conventional wisdom is that you need to lose one before you win one; well by my reckoning Joey has now lost two in a row. Will it be third time lucky next year? I wouldn’t be surprised. One thing is for sure, though, he can’t continue to blow his opportunities. They don’t come along very often.
FOUR: 2015 In Review
So that my friends, is that: Another long season in the books and we now get our Sunday afternoons back for at least a couple of months. All told, it wasn’t an awful season – there were certainly some high points – but for the most part the year was blighted by what proved to be a terrible aero package. At some tracks it would have been easier to solve world hunger than it was to pass the leader and that is a worrying state of affairs. Thankfully, the 2016 package looks to be a lot more racy and one can only hope this optimism is reflected on track, and in particular at the cookie-cutter circuits, throughout the campaign. The signature moment of the year will of course be the Kenseth vs. Logano disagreement coming to a head at Martinsville Speedway. That’s a highlight we will be seeing over and over again and one I suspect the vast majority of fans will not tire of seeing. Outside of that, we had no new first time winners, although in some senses Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Pocono Raceway felt a little that way. And all told, his was probably the most heart-warming story of the season even if it didn’t end up with what would have been both a remarkable and unexpected championship. Roll on 2016.
FIVE: Next Up, Daytona 500
And finally this week, a quick look ahead to the next meaningful race – the 2016 Daytona 500 – some 90 days from now. The Great American Race is a tremendous tradition, a fitting curtain raiser to the season and one in which legends are both made and also cemented. Sure, there is some racing in other series between now and then, but for stock car fans it’s a date to circle for next year. But that is a little way off. We have Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holidays to look forward to. Enjoy the offseason folks. And as always thanks for reading and commenting. It is truly appreciated.