Jim Utter believes that Kyle Busch's drive into the Chase after missing the first 11 races is a feat that has already earned him the title of Driver of the Year.
Kyle Busch may never be NASCAR’s most popular driver, but this is the perfect season to recognize him for what he is – one of the sport’s most talented.
Dust off the trophy and send it to the engraver: Busch is without a doubt this season’s Driver of the Year.
As if the reasons are not self-explanatory already, here’s a recap of why:
In Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Busch clinched a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup – a dream-come-true considering less than seven months ago he was laid up in a hospital bed in Daytona Beach, Fla., wondering if his season was over before it even started.
Heck, Busch’s injuries were so bad – he fractured both his right leg and left foot – many wondered if he could ever be the same driver once he returned to action.
They were right, he wasn’t.
He was even better.
Whatever anyone may say about Busch’s personality or his actions outside of the race car, there is no doubting his ability in it.
Next up for Kyle Busch - The Sprint Cup
The 2015 season is a testimony to that and strangely enough, although what he has already accomplished this season is remarkable in itself, he could be far from finished.
Considering how Busch has run this season and the strength of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization as a whole, Busch also has a realistic chance this year to win his first Cup series championship.
If there are still seeds of doubt about Busch’s accomplishments, here are a few statistics to put into perspective.
Busch is tied for the most wins this season (four) and has run just over half the series’ races (14 of 25).
In his 14 races since returning from his leg injuries, Busch has led 528 laps – that’s the fifth-highest total in the series this season and more laps led than the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, just to name a few.
Busch is now 27th in the series standings. When he returned to action in race No. 12 of the season, Busch had zero driver points. In 14 races, he has earned more points than seven drivers who have competed in all 25 races.
There are some who will suggest Busch’s ascension this season speaks more about the quality of his competition than the power of his accomplishments.
That’s a fine argument, if you care to dismiss the quality of competition that includes a six-time Cup series champion, a four-time series champion, a three-time series champion and several drivers with one title who have finished behind Busch in a majority of the races since he returned.
He's already earned DOTY
And no, it isn’t necessary for Busch to win this season’s championship to be worthy of the title of “Driver of the Year.”
The championship is a crowning achievement, certainly, but there are many attributes that make up a great season and winning the title is just one, albeit an important one.
Busch has already accomplished in 14 races what several of his fellow competitors have yet to equal in their careers.
And does anyone believe that with 11 races still left this season, we’ve seen the last of Busch’s impressive performances on the track, including his No. 18 Toyota in Victory Lane?
It may be hard for some to swallow, but this decision is one of the easiest I’ll have to make since I began covering NASCAR in 1998.
Kyle Busch is already your 2015 Driver of the Year.