NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: What Kind of Champ Will Kyle Busch Be?

After the dust cleared at Homestead, Kyle Busch was the last man standing as Sprint Cup champ. What kind of champion will Busch be, and how will his championship be remembered down the road?

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: Busch’s injury and fatherhood has molded him into a mature, respectful man. Rowdy will be a good ambassador for the sport. As for his championship, it just depends on how people construe it. So far, it appears it’ll be remembered as the ultimate comeback story, as it should be.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Marriage and parenthood often tames the savage beast, and I think we’ve seen exactly that with Busch in 2015. His recovery from serious injury was nothing short of miraculous, and it makes him a great human interest story regarding NASCAR. That should give Busch added mainstream audience appeal. NASCAR better hope that Busch is both new and improved for 2016. Don’t forget this is the kid who assessed the first-gen Car of Tomorrow he drove to victory at Bristol in 2007 in two words: “It sucked.” Busch is a young husband and dad who has a family-friendly sponsor in M&M/Mars. He should be a good face for NASCAR over the coming year.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I’ve always felt that drivers define their championships. Championships don’t define the driver. Whatever obligations come with the title, Busch will handle them as he sees fit. A leopard can’t change its spots. Back in 1980, Dale Earnhardt won the title, and he was far from a polished spokesperson at the time. I think it was Tom Higgins of the Observer who wrote at that banquet that so few members of the media wanted to talk to Earnhardt, and he wanted to talk to them even less that he wound up at the back of the auditorium playing pinball and doing his best to discourage interviews.

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: Busch will ultimately determine how he is perceived as a champion by his actions over the next year. I know he’s going to come back swinging next year. I have no doubt that he’s loving this championship, but he might want one with absolutely no doubt. His title will be remembered by many as a result of the format. Using regular points, he’d only be 20th, but just getting there missing nearly a third of the season is pretty amazing. It’s akin to Ernie Irvan‘s 1994 where he was in championship contention until he suffered near-fatal injuries at Michigan that put him out for 13.5 months.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Personality-wise, I think Busch will be similar to Brad Keselowski or Kevin Harvick – not bad for the sport, but not really a leader, either. That’s not a bad thing by any means. His season will be remembered for his comeback from a devastating injury, but also for the 11 races NASCAR waived to allow him to compete for the title. Honestly, while you never want to see anyone get hurt, that crash was good for Busch in that it made him appreciate what he has instead of the air of entitlement he had previously. It made him grow up, and that’s what won him the title—checkers or wreckers is a risky way to gun for titles, at best.

Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing fell just short of a title, finishing fourth in points on Sunday.  Can this single-car team maintain its 2015 success long-term?

Howell: Truex and team should be in great shape now that they’re with Toyota. I got the sense that GM cast them adrift a bit last season, and it had nothing to do with FRR being based in Denver, Colo. The team seemed to get sloppy seconds on everything, yet they managed to do a lot with a little. Their win at Pocono was one of what could have been several on the year, and their 22 top 10s were nothing to ignore. After they get their footing with Toyota, Truex and team should be in even better shape to race for the title.

Bearden: Considering they’re moving to Toyota with help from the team that beat them, Truex and FRR should be just fine. There may be a year or two needed for adjustment to the new make and rules package, but this team has proven it can run with the best in the field.

Henderson: Yes, and I think they will. They’ve done their homework and grown as a team to where they can be a top-10 team and easily a top-16 one. Provided the transition to Toyota is a smooth one and the team’s alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing is equal to what they had with Richard Childress Racing, this team has proven it belongs among the elite with two Chase berths in three seasons.

Allaway: Despite the great form in 2015, FRR is making a bunch of changes. It’s ditching Chevrolet and the alliance with RCR for Toyota and an alliance with JGR. There’s going to be some teething. Yes, Truex has experience with Toyota and the manufacturer likes him, but the team doesn’t have that experience. They might regress a little in 2016, but I think they can keep the form up.

McLaughlin: Obviously the switch to Toyota (and a possible second team) will be a bit of a challenge but FRR will have a much more active alliance going forward to help them make the adjustment. Stay tuned.

Jeff Gordon‘s retirement could be the first of many in the Cup Series over the next five years as several drivers enter their 40s. Will there be enough youngsters available who are both talented and experienced enough to replace them?

Henderson: Talented enough, absolutely, though replace isn’t the right term. Drivers like Gordon are pretty irreplaceable. There is a lot of talent out there, but whether or not there will be a dozen or more youngsters ready for Cup over the next five years or so remains to be seen, as sponsorship for development drivers is tough to get—and a dozen is a fairly reasonable number given the number of aging drivers at the top level right now. (As an aside, you know what would be funny? If JJ Haley someday replaces JJ Yeley.)

Bearden: Oh yeah. There isn’t a shortage of good drivers, there’s a surplus. Upcoming stars like Chris Buescher, Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace deserve a shot at Cup. Throw in intriguing prospects like Rico Abreu, William Byron and Haley, and there are too many shoes for all of the upcoming vacancies.

Allaway: The problem here is not finding talent to replace retiring drivers like Gordon, Greg Biffle or Matt Kenseth. Believe me, there’s no shortage of good drivers out there. The problem is those talented drivers getting the necessary experience so that they can get to those upper levels. There are a lot of good drivers today that are basically underemployed because they don’t have the money to bring to teams to get that all-important seat time. As a result, some of the greats that are going to be hanging it up in the next few years may very well be replaced by drivers who couldn’t hold their jock strap while the elite prospects might see their careers die on the vine.

Howell: The future of NASCAR has never looked so good! There’s a ton of talent moving through the ranks, and next year’s Cup roster looks like just the beginning of big things yet to come. With drivers like Chase Elliott, Jones, Buescher and Ryan Blaney grabbing headlines, expect to see even more young drivers who have something to prove. Good thing NASCAR got wind about this kid named Busch years ago and decided to up its minimum age requirement.

McLaughlin: I’d compare this period to the late ’70s. The big name drivers who drew the fans, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison were nearing retirement. Well, in Allison’s case his career was cut short by a savage wreck at Pocono months after he won the Daytona 500. Some new “kids” were entering the sport, guys like Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, and some kid named Rusty Wallace from Missouri with a ridiculous afro hairdo. At the time, people weren’t sure they’d amount to much. When Elliott finished second at Darlington in 1979, beaten by Dale Pearson subbing for an injured Earnhardt no less, I recall the reaction in the stands as ‘Who? How the blazes did he do that?’

The tide comes in and the time goes out. There will always be enough young drivers with the dream of making it in the big leagues to more than fill the seats available for a Cup ride. Guys like Chase Elliott (ironically enough), Jones, Buescher, Wallace (no relation–he’s the one without the afro) are ready to step up. And it just might be the sport’s next superstar is currently wheeling a truck for an underfunded team or racing late models in the Carolinas waiting for his or her big break. Neither Johnson nor Stewart exactly set the world on fire in the Busch series but they made out OK for themselves in the bigs.

Looking back on 2015, what sticks in your mind as the biggest moment of the season?

Allaway: There are a few that come to mind. Homestead is an obvious choice, but that’s because it’s so fresh. Long-term, I’d go with Martinsville since you had the ridiculousness of the Joey LoganoMatt Kenseth incident, Gordon scoring his final win and the incredible outpouring of emotion. Yes, Gordon’s an emotional chap, but we’d never seen him display so much joy previously.

McLaughlin: I think the fall Martinsville weekend will be the one memory fans will be able to recall from 2015 in a few years. Kenseth taking out Logano still has people talking and clearly incited some passion in the grandstands last weekend. Couple that with Gordon’s highly emotional final win, and Martinsville was a candle in the dark, scorched landscape of the 2015 Cup season. Had Austin Dillon‘s car made it into the grandstands at Daytona in July we’d likely all be talking about what we we’re going to do with our Sunday afternoons with NASCAR gone next year.

Howell: I think 2015 will go down in racing history for a few reasons: Busch’s injury, recovery and subsequent championship, Gordon’s final season and the Kenseth/Logano debacle. Given that folks thought Busch might never even walk again, seeing him win five races and the Cup title made for perhaps the greatest overall sports story of the year. Another bright spot on the season: We can’t ignore the positive energy that came out of the Southern 500 at Darlington with its throwback paint schemes and the success of the low-downforce package. It set the stage for 2016.

Henderson: For me, it’s the fall race at Martinsville, not because of Kenseth or Logano, but because it was Gordon’s last win, and the fans were incredible. Hundreds of them stayed for an hour or more after the race, in the dark and cold, soaking in the moment and cheering for Gordon, who not so very long ago was greeted with as many boos as cheers at most tracks. I think deep down, everyone knew it was likely to be his last win, and fans were just savoring being a part of it.

Bearden: Gordon’s Martinsville win seems like the prevailing moment in my mind, but as a 22-year-old that grew up in the Gordon era, that might be bias talking. The honest answer might be the crashes of both Busch and Dillon at Daytona, and the attention it’s turned on safety at restrictor-plate tracks and the circuit in general.

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23 Comments
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Bill B

The enduring memory will be Kenseth taking out Logano at Martinsville. Why? Because NASCAR will use that in their commercials for the next decade to the point where no one will be able to forget it.

DoninAjax

Curtis Turner was called Pops (a name I referenced several times in the past) because of the sound his car made when he hit another car on the track. That’s quite a bit different than the sound like a stick of dynamite when Kenseth bulldozed Logano at Martinsville and rubbin-ed him out.

It seems Brian is one of those Neanderthals who like the big (bigger is better) wrecks at Talladega and Daytona.

Rod

Logano DESERVED….. what he got

J.Smith

For me, it’s the year I learned to pronounce and spell Asterisk and the first year I didn’t watch all the races.

DoninAjax

Hey Matt! Dale Pearson?

william floyd

Martinsville, where Matt Kenseth, the always sneaky one, let all of Nascar’s fans see his true colors when he pounded Joey into the wall while Joey was running away from the field. This allowed Jeff to win a race that was all Joey’s to win. Very defining moment for sure. I keep seeing some media repeatedly saying Kyle got hurt hitting the SAFER barriers at Daytona. WRONG> there were no safer barriers where Kyle hit the wall, but there should have been since Nascar was spending all that money at their racetrack and not spending it on safety first. Brad had two of the last 4 races won in the closing laps with huge leads only to see Nascar throw suspicious debri cautions. I am super happy Kyle beat out the cheating at Dega Harvick. How can any media call Harvick ” the closer ” when he hasn’t been able to close the deal in 44 races in Cup where he has finished 2nd !
Jimmie Johnson has been the real deal closer as his 6 championships will attest to. Have a safe fun thanksgiving all.

Larry

William, what would you have done if Logano had wrecked you in Kansas and took you out of the chase and prevent you from winning a race. And, to top it all, Logano was already in the chase and didn’t need the win. Again, if that had been you that Logano wrecked what would you have done?

Junny

Nobody wrecked Matt. Logano held his line and the rest is history. Kenseth finished in 14th place. Logano got rammed and slammed leading a race that surely was his to win, from a guy 9 laps down and received a DNF. Who has ever raced said they didn’t need a win? The dumbest thing a team owner, driver or sponsor would ever hear of or tolerate.

Carl D.

Both the Clemson Tigers and the Carolina Panthers being undefeated and in championship contention late in the season.

Oh… the Nascar season? Kevin Harvick being the bridesmaid over and over again is what I will savor.

Larry

When Logano took Kenseth out at Kansas, Kenseth was very lucky he didn’t slam the wall. And, he was also very lucky he didn’t get hit by other cars behind him. Go back and watch the video. Kenseth’s payback was no surprise. Nascar announcers and others said that Kenseth would probably get his payback at Martinsville. Spinning someone out in this chase format pretty much takes you out of the chase. Yet, Brian France seem to accept what Logano did to Kenseth as OK. Really? If Kenseth had hit the wall or got hit by another driver and got injured would Brian be saying that? And, to me what makes what Logano do so bad is the fact that Logano alrready had a win and would have advanced to the next segment yet he wrecked Kenseth who had to win to advance. Think about this folks. Would Nascar have granted Kenseth a “waiver” if he had got injured when Logano wrecked him? Probably not. But, Kenseth was not the only one that got wrecked by another chase driver it happened several times. That’s just another reason why this chase is completely screwed up and a terrible way to determine a season champ. And, I can understand giving some waivers but when that waiver amounts to eleven races then that is going way to far. Kyle’s wife was trying to defend his waiver by comparing it to other drivers waivers but I don’t think any of them had anything close to an eleven race waiver. Folks, there has to be a limit on waivers and eleven is way too many to give a driver regardless of the circumstances of the reason for giving the waiver. Kyle got injured in the xfinity series race that he shouldn’t even be racing in but because Nascar still lets the top cup drivers race in the lower series he got injured. That is another reason cup drivers shouldn’t be driving in the lower series because you could get injured and hurt your chances to win a cup title.

Larry

And, to the original question of what kind of champion Kyle will be? Well, to me he will always be a champion that only raced about two thirds of the season races and missed more races (eleven) than are in the chase(ten)itself. How any one could call him a champion after that is beyond me. Sure Nascar, granted him a waiver and stipulated goals he would have to meet but looking back Nascar made a huge mistake by letting he be able to compete for the title. I wouldn’t want any driver who missed as many races as Kyle missed to be eligible for the title. And, I do mean any driver. This is not against Kyle but this is Nascar’s fault.

Tim S.

I do wonder what it would take to not get the all-important waiver, and why it’s even there if anyone can qualify. So far no one has been explicitly denied eligibility. And what happens if/when someone who missed fewer races is denied? Then again I can remember a time when the championship meant less than how many races your guy won and if he didn’t, who he made earn them.

rg72

Since they gave a waiver to Smoke last year, it is hard to see what circumstance would cause one to be denied eligibility.

Bob

The reason for the waivers and the rule is so that teams don’t just skip races if they
are already in. Fans at Richmond would be very unhappy if the “superstars”
all stayed home to concentrate on their chase cars because they were already locked
into the chase and couldn’t fall out of the top 30.

Pretty much any excuse other than “didn’t feel like showing up” is going to
get you a waiver. I’m sure having the car show up with a substitute driver
helps the waiver process also.

I’m not defending it, the chase is horrible, the waiver thing is stupid and Nascar
is certainly not what it used to be.

GinaV24

funny thing though is that drivers like Pearson drove in whatever races they wanted to and wracked up wins which were what mattered more than championships.

salb

I’m sure that Kyle will be a more than adequate 2/3 of the season, 10 race ‘champ’. My issue is that Nascar allowed him to be eligible after missing so much of the season. Seems to me that, when Cup regulars choose to run in any ‘lower’ series race, they are assuming the risk that something may happen that keeps them out of their ‘regular’ ride. Kyle chose to race, had an awful wreck and got hurt. If he had stuck to running his Cup car, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If a driver and team is willing to assume the risk for possible rewards, they should also suffer the consequences when things don’t turn out the way they want. Not wishing harm to any driver, just be aware that’s the chance you take. Nascar just gave everyone a free pass, because if they can give a ‘wave around’ to Kyle, they may have to do it for anyone else.

SS

quin·tes·sen·tial
/ˌkwin(t)əˈsen(t)SHəl/

adjective
adjective: quintessential

representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class.
“he was the quintessential tough guy—strong, silent, and self-contained”

SS

sar·casm
/ˈsärˌkazəm/

noun
noun: sarcasm; plural noun: sarcasms

the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
“his voice, hardened by sarcasm, could not hide his resentment”

Carl D.

In the pre-chase days we wouldn’t be having discussions about how many races Kyle missed, waivers, and whether he deserves to be the champ. You won the championship by accumulating points over the season, and any driver missing as many races as Kyle did this year wouldn’t even be in the discussion. Now that we have a flawed system, we get a flawed season champion. It’s only fitting. I don’t particularly like Kyle Busch, but he’s the perfect poster boy for what Nascar has become.

Larry

Using the classic points system, Kyle would have finished twentieth in points this year. That wouldn’t have gotten him on the stage at the awards banquet yet with his waiver and this stupid chase he is the “champ”! What a joke Nascar has become and Brian France is so stupid he doesn’t even realize it.

Phil H

looks like no matter how you slice it, since after Matt Kenseth won the full season championship in 2003. starting in 2004, that little itty bitty (*) rules the day for Cup champions!

thus far, Xfinity and Trucks are still doing it right. I hear that may change in the very near future.

kb

Nascar, supposedly objective writers and of course Samantha Busch (who loves the spotlight) are annoyed that people actually see the folly of this Champion. 11 races missed, in P20 in over all points. Come on. Spin the bull all you want, people who think see thru the crapola.

I and others will consider him a champ when he completes a 36 race season (no pity party) for an injury and the storyline of a “miraculous comeback”, His “comeback” is P20. Jesus, why is this so hard to understand? Are we all so conditioned for the “feel good” story that we overlook common senses…because “he deserved it this year because he had a big boo-boo”? SMH. His “crown” has brought home to roost the folly of the Chase, despite what his attention seeking wife thinks is due him and more importantly her. Imo.

GinaV24

I don’t think the issue is the number of young drivers coming into NASCAR, it is more a case of whether or not those drivers can interest enough fans to keep NASCAR viable.

I know people draw parallels with what happened after Petty retired but the world was very different then and NASCAR was starting an upward trajectory. IMO NASCAR has been falling for some time and I don’t see any of those drivers mentioned able to draw enough fans to arrest that.

My driver retired at Homestead and I have no interest whatsoever is choosing a new one – that’s how little interest I have in NASCAR as a sport going forward. Will I watch? Probably at least some of the races but BZF and the random application of rules and a crapshoot championship no longer inspire the kind of devotion I gave to the sport for 23 years.

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