As the old wrestling adage goes, to be the man you’ve got to beat the man, and that’s exactly what Kyle Busch did Sunday night in dramatic fashion.
Busch is the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion following a late-race pass of Brad Keselowski on a restart with eight laps to go to win Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In the process, Busch outdueled defending series champion Kevin Harvick, four-time series champ Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Sprint Cup championship. Harvick, who won this race en route to a title last year finished second this time, while Gordon was sixth and Truex 12th.
Understandably, Busch was emotional in Victory Lane afterwards.
“To go up against those guys here tonight and to score this victory for this No. 18 Toyota Camry was phenomenal,” said Busch. “… Pretty unbelievable, a dream of a lifetime, a dream come true. It’s something that only happens so often and I just can’t believe it with everything that happened this year.”
All day and into the night, Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ran at or near the front, as he fended off the pressure from Harvick, while Gordon and Truex never mounted serious threats in the race.
The title was the fourth for JGR and its first since Tony Stewart in 2005. It was also significant because it was the first Sprint Cup driver championship for Toyota, which has been trying to win one since 2007.
Busch’s title run represents a remarkable reversal of fortune that will go down in NASCAR lore. Busch missed the first 11 races of the Cup season with a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a midfoot fracture of his left foot. He suffered those injuries in a hard crash in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
“The rehab and the getting back and the getting ready, healed and focused, all that was the hardest part, the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” said Busch. “To put it all together here tonight, this night wasn’t quite that hard.”
But Busch won four races after his return at the Coca-Cola 600 and cracked the top 30 in points after 11 races back, which made him eligible to compete in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
And on this night, Busch was able to finally achieve the dream that had eluded him for 10 years to take his title.
The rap on Busch was that he has phenomenal talent but couldn’t win on the sport’s biggest stages. Earlier this year, he won the Brickyard 400, his first of NASCAR’s major, and Sunday night he sealed his championship.
It was an emotional evening that saw Gordon end his career. He wound up in Victory Lane, where he embraced Busch.
“I don’t know that you could have scripted it any better,” Busch said of beating Gordon, his former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. “For him to be in his last year and go out, I wish I could have beat him sooner in that time, when was still running or had another year to go after it.”