NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is Kyle Busch a Deserving Champion?

He did it.

Somehow, Kyle Busch found a way to overcome a broken leg and foot, 11 missed races, his own snake-bitten history in the Chase and the struggles of newfound parenthood to claim his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Busch, 30, put together one of the most incredible comeback stories in NASCAR history to accomplish the feat. Coming back from a devastating injury in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway, the Nevada native won four races and climbed into the top 30 in his first 15 races to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being extended a waiver by NASCAR, and earned his first-career Chase win when it mattered most to take the title.

The championship, while earned fairly under NASCAR’s current rules, has come under intense scrutiny from the sport’s traditional fanbase. If coming to terms with the former season-long championship’s transition to a one-race showdown between four drivers was difficult, then watching one of the four drivers win it all after competing in only 69% of the season’s events was borderline impossible. Many have dubbed Busch a part-time champion, claiming he didn’t compete enough to earn the title.

The insults and complaints aren’t fair to Busch after his stellar season, but there’s more than blind hate behind their rationale. Are angered fans onto something? Does Busch deserve to lift up the Sprint Cup?

Question: Does Kyle Busch Deserve the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship?

Opinion One: No. You Can’t Give an MVP Award to a Part-Time Driver
Written by Aaron Bearden

Busch’s storybook ending to 2015 couldn’t have been scripted any better, but it shouldn’t have ended in a championship.

Yes, what happened to Busch in the season-opening Alert Today Florida 300 NXS race at Daytona International Speedway was horrible, and the 30-year-old’s comeback was among the best in the sport’s 67-year history, but Busch’s 11 missed races have to come into play at some point.

In missing 11 events, Busch was absent for nearly a third of the NSCS season. NASCAR decided to give Busch an exemption so he would be eligible to make the Chase, and he ultimately took advantage of the free pass to take the title, emphasizing a serious flaw in the current format in the process.

Despite earning just 867 points – good for 20th among all drivers, and a full 454 points less than championship runner-up Kevin Harvick – fans are expected to consider Busch a champion, something traditionalists and fans of other sports must find perturbing.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of good reasons for Busch to claim the title, and I have no doubt my competitor for this article will proceed to shove them down everyone’s throat one dolled-up stat at a time, but this debate can ultimately be settled on principle.

The common argument for Busch being the champion is that his stats speak for themselves, and the team still competed in the entire 36-event schedule. However, the argument holds little relevance when put into perspective.

Few would argue against the sentiment that the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team deserved to win the championship. The team endured multiple driver changes and surged when it mattered most to earn the title. However, there’s a large difference between giving the team a title and giving Busch a title.

As most fans know, NASCAR rewards two championships, for both the best driver and team each season. Busch’s triumph clinched the 2015 owners’ championship for owner Joe Gibbs and the entire JGR No. 18 Toyota crew.

The owners’ championship, while less emphasized by both drivers and media, rewards the entire team for their success. Winning the owners’ championship is equivalent to triumphing in the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series or the Stanley Cup in the sense that everyone involved in the success is celebrated.

Busch’s drivers championship, on the other hand, is more of an individual honor. It’s essentially NASCAR’s attempt at a most valuable player award. This fact is what makes Busch’s victory so difficult to justify.

On Saturday, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield saw his hopes at winning the Heisman Trophy – college football’s most valuable player award – shrink tremendously after he left a game against Texas Christian University early with concussion symptoms. Note, he didn’t leave for the season – he only missed half of one game – and yet, save for a stumble from Heisman favorite Derrick Henry, Mayfield’s MVP hopes are dashed.

Nearly every other sport rewards their MVP award primarily to players that play all or most of the season. Sure, players sometimes a miss a few games – Steph Curry missed two of Golden State’s 82 games in his 2014-15 NBA MVP season – but none miss to the extent that Busch missed in 2015.

As a matter of fact, the NBA requires players to complete at least 58 of their team’s 82 events, or 70.73% of the season, to be eligible for the award. Busch competed in only 69.44% of all NSCS events in 2015, meaning in the NBA, he would be ineligible for the MVP title.

Most sports require consistent presence in their season to earn individual awards. NASCAR choosing to go the other way and allow Busch to earn the sport’s biggest prize, especially when the sanctioning body is trying to be just like every other sport with playoffs and game seven moments, is going to be a difficult pill for both the sport’s longtime followers and prospective new fans to swallow.

Opinion Two: Yes, Rowdy Deserves the Title
Written by Sean Fesko

There’s a lot of debate as to whether Busch is a worthy champion. Because he missed 11 races due to injury, most fans say he shouldn’t even have been a part of the Chase. That he won the Cup left an even more sour taste in their mouths. Can a driver who ran 2/3 of a season be a worthy champion?

The answer, of course, is yes. Chase Era or Not, Kyle Busch is just as worthy a champion as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. The stats he was able to accumulate, even in a shortened season, confirm this. Let’s take a look at them, one-by-one.

Note: All championship seasons from 2000 to 2015 were studied for this argument.

Wins

Rowdy’s five wins on the season are tied for fourth most in a championship season since 2000. With the champion averaging 5.19 wins in their title campaign, Busch is right on the pace. Had he run the full season, perhaps we’d be talking about even more wins.

In taking the checkered flag first in five of 25 races, Busch’s winning percentage of 20 is the second-highest in the Chase Era, trailing only Johnson’s 2008 campaign in which he won 27.78% of the races run. The average for a champ? 14.83%. Busch easily beats that mark.

Top 5s

Busch’s 12 top-five finishes are 13th-worst, lower than the average of 14.68. When you consider his top-five percentage, however, he ranks fourth with 48%. That’s nearly a top five every other race. Extrapolating that to a full season, Busch would have racked up another five top fives and risen to fourth on the list.

And that 48% top-five rate? Only one Chase champ had a better mark, Johnson in 2007. Champions have finished in the top five an average of 41.91%, much lower than Busch’s number despite more opportunities to raise their numbers.

Top 10s

Busch’s stats here are significantly lower than his peers. Only 16 top 10s, easily the lowest on the list. However, like his top-five stats, if you extrapolate to a full-season, using his 64% top-10 rate, Busch would move up to third on the list with 23.

That 64%, despite only counting 25 races, beats the average put up by Johnson ’08 and ’10, Keselowski, Stewart ’11, Kurt Busch and Harvick. The number nearly ties the average among all champions, 63.79%.

Laps Led

Busch led 735 of 6,752 laps run in 2015, a number that is among the lowest laps-led totals for a champion since 2000. Only Labonte and Kenseth led fewer laps in a season. The nearest Chase champ to Busch is Keselowski, who also led 735 laps. The champion averages 1,289 laps out front, so Busch is way off the mark in this category.

When you look at percentages, again Busch had a better showing you might think. He led just under 11% of the laps he ran, better than the marks put up by Stewart ’02 and ’11, Johnson ’06, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Labonte and Kenseth.

Average Start/Finish and Lead Lap Finishes

Busch averaged an 8.2 starting position, tied with Johnson ’09 for the best by a champion in this millennium. The average starting position for a champ is 11.89.

His average finish of 10.8 is middle of the pack, but better than Harvick, Stewart ’02 and ’11, Kurt Busch, Johnson ’09 and ’10 and Gordon. The average finishing position for a champ is 10.9, so Busch hits the mark in this category.

Busch finished on the lead lap 80% of the time this season, the fourth best among the 16 champs. The average is 78.82%.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the only reason Busch looks like an unworthy champion is because he had fewer top fives and top 10s than champs in years before. But he was close on those marks and, had he run the full season, would be competitive in those categories. He already ranks high in terms of wins, laps led percentage, average start and lead-lap finishes.

Comparing Busch vis-à-vis to his fellow champions, it’s clear that Busch belongs in the brotherhood.

Case closed.

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18 Comments
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kb

SMH. Whatta world.

kb

Sorry, now their is an article about Sammy telling us how he is worthy. Did she talk to Delana..shut up and spend his money. Sorry the true barometer of most fans is the overall wonderfulness/bad season you have..no extra brownie points are wanted or needed. Spin it all you want. He is a benefactor of a seriously flawed system that really has nothing to do what he did in the 9 races or the whole season, as he wasn’t a partipiante the whole season. He kept up the points in the reset world. Did not win one race for some time before or during the 9 race bs restart..and yet the final race…lol. Up front like Hamlin and Newman last year. And what the hell is going on with Brad the last 2 out of 3 races leading then a move to the side move or taking a line that isn’t the best. Come on…really??????????? He in the best barometer of a “Champ” we have is sitting as we speak in 20th points. Yup, can’t get past that tibit despite what the warm an fuzzy cheerleaders say. Trophies for all!!!!!!!!!! In fact he is out like over 400 points in the “real world”. But it feels good…give it to him. Lol.

Bill B

Personally I don’t buy into the chase as valid in any incarnation but even less so when they went to the win and your in format. The eliminations and rounds make it even more ridiculous. I don’t care who the driver is, if you aren’t in the top 5 at race 26 and/or 36 you don’t deserve the championship.

salb

This just proves how truly ridiculous the whole ‘chase’ idea is. Miss 1/3 of he season running in a series you can’t win a title in, then get a free pass? Something stinks.

Fed Up

Kyle’s trophy should read “Bryan’s Homestead Champion”.

sr37212

So by the standards of most comments David Pearson shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because for most of his career he only raced the big money races when Petty was racing in all the races.
If Stewart had won the championship last year I doubt anyone would be complaining about his injury waiver or if Kurt won this year would they complain about his?

Rod

The same for Stewart, He is a WASHED UP HAS BEEN, HE’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO EVER WIN ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP,HE SHOULD HAVE RETIRED WITH GORDON

Rod

Kyle Busch is nothing but a PART-TIME SPRINT CUP CHAMPION. He gets hurt racing in a Xfinity Series race and then you got Brian France saying He will do everything it takes to make sure he makes the CHASE , SOMETHING JUST DON’T SOUND RIGHT. He missed 11 races and I don’t think he deserved to be in the chase at all, I know he won 5 races but he still MISSED 11 RACES……. FED UP WITH THE CHASE AND BRIAN FRANCE….. AND THE PHANTOM CAUTIONS THAT COME UP JUST AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR FRANCE TO THINK HE’S PUTTING ON A GOOD SHOW FOR THE FANS, RIDICULOUS !!!!!!!

Question for anybody: Do you think Kyle Busch Looks like PEE WEE HERMAN ?

I agree with FED UP

Kyle’s trophy should read “Bryan’s Homestead Champion”.

Bill B

Question for anybody: Do you think Kyle Busch Looks like PEE WEE HERMAN ?

LOL… I don’t know, I’ve never seen him in a gray suit with a red bow-tie.

I think he looks like Lee Van Cleef… something about the snake eye’s and pointy nose.

Tim Walgren

I am a Kyle Busch fan. I think he has more talent than anyone currently racing in NASCAR, but having said that, I do not care for a system that allows you to miss 11 races and be Champion. However , I think your anger should be directed at Brian France, he is responsible for this “Chase” fiasco.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Rod

Sorry but I have never been a fan of Kyle Busch ever since he got into the Cup Series with Hendrick he had a very good thing going and with the attitude that he was the best just starting out showed a lot about him understanding he was very young when he got in there just rubbed me the wrong way plus he don’t need to be in 90% of the Xfinity Series Races. Let the young ones earn their way to move up. He’s got good young drivers , look at Erik Jones.
At first I didn’t mind the Chase but now it has these drivers on edge to do things they normally don’t do, Look at Kenseth & Logano Feud .

JT

I’m just glad things ended well. Did Kevin Harvick run better over the course of the whole season? Yes. But everybody played by BZF’s convoluted rules and Kyle Busch won. And I think that Kyle is a deserving champion.

Don in Ct

It’s a seriously flawed championship in a series that has become a pale shadow of its former self. I gave up watching everything except the road races.

Tim Walgren

Too busy going to Bernie Sanders rally’s?

J.Smith

Actually Bernie is a huge fan of NASCARS relentless redistribution of speed at the drop of a hat, a water bottle or brake duct…

kb

….and making all equal when they are not every three races when they are not…… :(

Biff Baynehouse

Finished P20 (-454 pts) (current pts system but NO Chase farce). You tell me! #4 should have received a (-25 min) points penalty for Dega, making #22 is the real Champion!

kb

Well Jeff Gordon was the “Classic Points” winner last year. Logano was the old “Chase points winner” after Homestead by 7 points over Harvick. If they held on to the dumb 10 race Chase, Logano would have been the “Champ”. So it is pathetic with the ever switching of what constitutes a winner and the field is now down to one race. why not just pull a track out of the hat and whoever wins that race is the season long “Chump”. Making Kyle Busch’s season a “Champ season, considering in reality he is P20 in points. Lol…but it is “feel good” story, so who cares about the facts. The everybody gets a trophy crowd is clearly on board, they don’t know any better or care to think about it logically.

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