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.
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.
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.
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%.
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%.
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.