After bringing home his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2015, Kyle Busch again found himself vying for another NASCAR Cup Series title when the series headed to the 2016 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While he came up just short of another title in 2016, Busch, the winner of 38 races in NASCAR’s top series (as of January 2017), has shown that he’s now consistently a threat to win the championship as he enters his 12th full-time Cup Series season in 2017.
It’s likely a question of when and how many when it comes to Busch’s next Cup Series titles but, no matter what happens, how Busch won his first title in 2015 will be difficult to top. In February 2015, the Las Vegas native suffered a broken right leg and a broken left foot in an accident during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Busch initially figured he would work on his rehab and get himself ready for the 2016 season.
But as the weeks went by and he went from laying in a makeshift hospital bed set up in his living room, to standing, and then to walking, Busch knew that he may have a shot at racing in 2015 as the timeline for his recovery kept getting shorter and shorter.
The initial goal was simply to be standing by his wife Samantha’s side for the birth of their son, who was due in mid-May. As it turned out, Busch’s miraculous recovery saw both his return to racing and the birth of his son happening just two days apart. Busch returned for the May 16 NASCAR All-Star Race, a non-points event where he finished a solid sixth in his 2015 Cup Series debut. Just two days later, on May 18, Busch and wife Samantha welcomed their son Brexton into the world.
On the track, Busch was granted a waiver by NASCAR that allowed him to be eligible for the playoffs despite missing the first 11 regular-season races. The conditions of the waiver were that Busch had to win a regular-season race, and also had to finish the regular season in the top-30 in driver points. Having missed those 11 events left Busch with a tall mountain to climb to meet both criteria required to make the playoffs by its September cutoff. It meant Busch and the No. 18 team had just 15 races to get the job done. To make it even more difficult, an accident at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in mid-June created an even deeper hole in the driver standings for Busch in his quest to crack the top-30 as he sat 173 points behind the 30th-place driver.
Not about to give up, Busch and then rookie crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire team rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Using the off weekend following Michigan as a point to refocus, the team turned around its season in late June by winning at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The win started a remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With the hot streak, Busch and company jettisoned their way into the top-30, clinching a playoff berth at the Labor Day weekend race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Once in the playoffs, Busch and Stevens navigated the difficult 10-race, 16-driver playoffs with hard work and smart racing. They advanced through the first three rounds and into the four-driver, winner-take-all season finale at Homestead. Not only did the No. 18 team make it to the Championship Four, its fast pit work on the final stop of the race vaulted Busch into the lead with less than 10 laps to go. And in another case of truth being stranger than fiction and something more likely belonging in a Hollywood script, Busch brought home his first Cup Series title by winning the series finale, and the championship capped off a season to remember for Busch, his entire JGR team, and his family.
Busch’s rise to Cup Series champion and dominant racer took shape very early in his life as he unofficially began racing at age 6, when he cruised around the cul-de-sac of his family’s Las Vegas neighborhood in a makeshift go-kart. Busch was too small to reach the throttle, but that didn’t stop him from picking up the basics. His father, Tom, held down the gas pedal while Busch steered the kart on the street. Once Busch was tall enough to reach the gas pedal, an accelerated pace was set for his future career in motorsports.