Busch is back in NASCAR. In multiple ways.
The marketing people are mostly talking about Busch beer making a comeback to stock car racing this year. But the same could be said about the Busch brothers of Las Vegas in regard to the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, their hometown race and track.
Neither Kurt Busch nor kid brother Kyle raced here last year. It was the first time in 15 years that had happened. Or didn’t happen.
Kurt was suspended by NASCAR at the start of the 2015 season, for “actions detrimental to stock car racing.” This is what the sanctioning body called it when a family court judge in Delaware decided there probably was enough evidence to suggest he had roughed up his ex-girlfriend behind closed motorhome doors.
Kyle was laid up in a hospital bed, mostly because somebody had neglected to put up a safer wall on the inside of the track at Daytona speedway. Kyle Busch hit the inside wall with a mighty thud during the Xfinity Series race a day before the 2015 Daytona 500. Kyle broke his left leg and right foot; they were serious injuries, perhaps even career-threatening injuries, some thought.
“Oh no, it’s not slowing down,” Busch recalled thinking to himself as his car skittered off the track and toward the inside barrier. “This is going to hurt.”
He braced for the impact.
It did hurt.
“As soon as the wreck happened, as soon as I hit, I knew instantly that my right leg broke,” he said. “I could feel it. It was a sharp pain.”
Both Busch brothers are back and looking strong for this year’s race in Las Vegas.
The spotlight is shining brighter on Kyle, because whereas Kurt was forced to sit out only three races before his suspension was lifted, Kyle missed 11 while doctors were putting him back together again in the manner of Humpty Dumpty.
Kyle Busch didn’t sit on a wall, but he hit one.
Kyle Busch had a great fall.
Titanium rods, and assorted nuts and bolts, were used to repair his broken leg.
But no king’s horses were summoned. No king’s men. Only skilled surgeons with steady hands.
Kyle Busch came back a lot quicker than anybody expected.
Remember when New York Knicks captain Willis Reed dragged his injured leg onto the court for Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, and then scored the first two baskets of the game?
That was sort of what it was like when Kyle Busch limped to his car to drive in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte in May. But whereas those two baskets were the only points Wills Reed would score against the Lakers, Busch would win a race at Sonoma, California, on June 13. It was just four months after his big crash.
He would go on to win three consecutive Cup races, including the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Injury? What injury?
Kyle Busch sneaked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with just enough points, and then he won the last race of the season, at Homestead, Florida, to claim the championship, too. He finished the season with five wins and 12 top fives and 16 top 10s, despite running in only 25 of 36 races.
He also finished the season with the unabashed admiration of the other drivers, and probably of Willis Reed, too.
Even big brother was impressed.
“I was tremendously proud of him,” Kurt Busch said. “I couldn’t be happier for him. The first memory that jogged into mind was when I won the championship, and how that merges into all the people that have helped us make our way through.
“It’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the little Bullring, that three-eighths-mile track. It’s different sponsors, or people that we talked to in the garage area — all those memories come out when you have those big moments. It was really neat to see him win it all.”
Kyle Busch said it’s still hard to fathom how he won it all — that he could win it all — after clouting that inside wall at Daytona, and missing all those races.
“It’s definitely crazy the way it all happened, the way it went down,” he said in the run-up for his return to Daytona, where he led 19 laps and finished an ultra-competitive third in the 500. “It’s still a story we’re talking about.
“For me to go through what all I went through, and my family went through and everything, and to then be able to enjoy the end of the season and the enjoyment of what all that meant in winning a championship was pretty awesome, and very special.”
That part about the family was Busch’s wife, Samantha, giving birth to the couple’s first child, a baby boy named Brexton, during Kyle’s recuperation. The blessed event provided the driver with newfound perspective, and were Willis Reed a little younger, it also may have given the old Knicks’ captain something to shoot for.
Kyle Busch said he had been aiming to win a NASCAR championship since he broke into the sport with such high expectations. To win it in such dramatic fashion while becoming a father, too? Who could have dreamed it? Besides him, of course.
“It’s something I’ve dreamt of as a kid, something I’ve always wanted to accomplish — something a lot of people have expected me to be able to accomplish since I joined this sport,” Busch said before engines were fired at Daytona. “So I’m pretty excited to have that now off my shoulders.”
So Busch is back, both on the hood of Kevin Harvick’s car, and on the starting grid in Las Vegas. Head for the mountains, and watch your rear spoiler heading into the turns.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski