The scenarios were set, and the critics were ready to pounce. And regardless of who won the title – the ‘yeah, but…’ factor was going to be in play. I guess that’s where we differ from other sports.
The Royals beat the Mets in Game 5 to win the World Series. They continually scored the most runs over their opponents – and they won the ultimate prize. Kansas City fans were happy, New York fans weren’t. But that’s how it shook out, and everyone went home – with the high hopes for next season.
It doesn’t seem to work that way in NASCAR. There’s always a ‘yeah, but’ if your favorite driver doesn’t fair well. And it was inevitable way before the green flag flew at Homestead.
Here’s what, in my opinion, the potential fallout would have been for the other contenders had they taken home the grand prize.
KEVIN HARVICK WINS: The defending Champ had a strong season – one good enough to bring him to the last dance. Because when it counts, Harvick and company can make that magic happen, right? Yeah, but, that final restart at Talladega allowed him to advance to the next round. He manipulated the end of the race. That’s what we’d be saying.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR. WINS: Truex was the epitome of consistency for most of the year. There was a handful of unfavorable finishes, but he won at Pocono and, at least, ensured himself a spot in playoffs. And in the end, he was able to keep himself in play and make it to the finale, right? Yeah, but, NASCAR wanted a feel-good story. The single-car team operating from afar beats the superpowers. And, what about all that longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has gone through and her courageous battle with ovarian cancer? That sure would have made a great story. NASCAR wanted that to happen. Somehow, some way, they figured out a way for Truex to be our Champion. That’s what we’d be saying.
JEFF GORDON WINS: There would have been no better story than having the guy who changed the face of NASCAR’s modern era to retire as the Champion. Could you imagine? It would have been the ultimate send-off. It would parallel Tom Seaver, arguably the best starting pitcher in MLB history, throwing a no-hitter in his final game. It would have been the story of stories and a great way to end the season, right? Yeah, but, if Kenseth didn’t knock Logano clear into Roanoke, Gordon wouldn’t have made it to Homestead anyway. His year was up and down. That’s what we’d be saying.
KYLE BUSCH IS THE CHAMPION: Now, we’ve got a lot of ‘yeah, buts’ to contend with:
- Busch missed close to the first third of the season. He didn’t run all the races, therefore he’s ineligible. That’s a pretty popular one.
- NASCAR changed the rule and gave Busch a waiver. Why? Well, they felt bad about Daytona. There should have been a soft wall where he hit – so they’ll take the blame and exercise their right to make an exception.
- There were fill-in drivers who kept the team in contention. Those allegations come from the ignorant. Informed fans understand that driver points and owners points are separate. Erik Jones and David Ragan scored points for the team, but Busch earned every marker that brought him to the final race.
And there were plenty more.
Social media lit up when the final caution was displayed. There was debris under the flag stand and a water bottle on the track, but out of the groove. Was it warranted? I don’t know – but I’m glad I’m not charged with making those calls.
There was an outcry by fans – and some media – that NASCAR wanted the Champion also to win the race. I guess, to some people, that’s a good story.
I don’t easily get my feelings hurt and it’s okay if you disagree — you’re entitled to think what you want.
Kyle Busch hasn’t always cast himself in the best light. He’s come across brash and cocky at times. He doesn’t take losing very well either. He’s had his moments for sure. However, in my opinion, I think he’s done a great deal to shed that persona. Having a well-grounded wife and becoming a dad certainly hasn’t hurt. I’m not looking to change your opinion of him personally but, just for a moment in the interest of objectivity, put aside the past and let’s live in the present.
Kyle Busch missed the first eleven races of the season. He wasn’t stricken with the flu – he broke his right leg and left foot. That would have sidelined most professional sports players for the season. Maybe ended the career of others.
Rookie Sprint Cup Crew Chief, Adam Stevens, had to keep all the plates spinning. He needed to rely on drivers he hasn’t worked with – including a rookie — for feedback to remain competitive. Nothing against the substitutes, but it’s chore to get into a rhythm when you’re accustomed to the information your regular driver is giving you.
Nevertheless, they had some good finishes and tried to build as much momentum as they could, in anticipation of Busch’s return.
Now he’s back.
Five races in, he wins at Sonoma. Legs and feet are pretty important there too.
Two races later, he scores at Kentucky. And then the following week at Loudon. And then the following week at the Brickyard. Still, he’s outside of the top-30 in the standings – the caveat for Chase eligibility.
Busch penetrates and maintains top-30 status at Watkins Glen and then it was game-on.
Aside from a few miscues on pit road, a flat tire or two, scrapes with the wall and a day-ending wreck, Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team positioned themselves to win the Championship.
RELATED: Will Kyle Busch Be the Best Ever?
To those who take an ardent stance on the fact that Busch didn’t run all the races, I ask you to think about this:
Let’s say Carolina Panther’s quarterback, Cam Newton suffers an injury right before the NFL season starts — maybe he fell off his wallet or something. He’s benched for half the season and the back-up guy just needs to help keep the team relevant and competitive during his recovery.
Now, he’s back. And hitting his targets better than ever. Everything is in sync, and they win the Superbowl. Is it legit? They won without their starter. Is Newton the Championship quarterback? He didn’t play in all the games, right?
Yep, I agree, there’s a lot of rhetoric in what you just read. But the facts are the facts and the numbers don’t lie.
If you miss the first 11 races, get yourself into the top-30 in the standings, complete 97.7% of the laps, lead 732 of them, win five races, have a great final pit stop and beat your three opponents – you deserve to be the Champion.
It would have been a good story had Harvick won back-to-back titles. Or Truex showing that consistency still matters or, of course, Gordon going out on top. Those are all great storylines.
But, for me, Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing made 2015 a spectacular season on many levels.
It was a testament to teamwork, determination, overcoming adversity, athleticism, and perseverance. It was about keeping your eye on the prize and grabbing it.
This wasn’t just a good story for NASCAR – it was a great story for sports.
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