Kyle Busch's painful road to becoming Sprint Cup champion
Samantha Busch is convinced the 2015 NASCAR season is prime material for a Lifetime Channel movie script.
From the moment she failed to hear her husband Kyle’s voice after his race car shot into the concrete wall at 150 miles per hour at Daytona in February to the Sprint Cup Champion’s stage at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, it’s been one hell of a year.
An unbelievable turnaround
“With a shattered left foot and a broken right leg, if you told me that Kyle would win the championship and it would be the best year ever, when it started out so terribly, I would have told you you were crazy,” Samantha Busch said on Monday night as she accepted the team owner’s award for NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series.
“But God puts you through hard things to bring you back better and stronger and that’s what happened to us this year. It’s been a storybook year. I couldn’t be more proud of Kyle, our friends, family, the team. Everybody stuck by us and supported us and that’s why he won the championship.”
It was by far the scariest day of my life. I was pregnant, crying and eventually kind of yelling, ‘I need to see him. I need to know.'
Samantha Busch pm the day Kyle was injured
What other athlete endured the type pain and suffering the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did as he fought through rehab and overcame an 11-race deficit to win the highest honor in his sport?
Stunning stats despite only running 25 races
In 25 Sprint Cup starts, Busch had the second-most wins (five) and the sixth-most top fives (12). His average qualifying effort of 8.2 was second only to Joey Logano (6.9). His average finish of 10.8 was only slightly higher than that of defending champion Kevin Harvick (8.7) or Logano (9.2).
People don’t see what we went through, they don’t know every hour, they don’t understand how hard he worked ... Trying to learn how to bend his toes, how to move his foot, how to stand up
Based on cumulative points for the season — not recalculated under the Chase format — the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota ranked 20th with 863 points, more than Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears, Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Tony Stewart, all of whom ran the full season.
He scored 89 fewer points than 15th-place Aric Almirola, 76 points fewer than16th-place Kasey Kahne and trailed Clint Bowyer (17th), Kyle Larson (18th) and Greg Biffle (19th) by 28, nine and six points, respectively. All of those drivers competed in all 36 events.
So when people question whether Kyle Busch deserved a waiver from NASCAR or if a driver that ran 25 of the 36-race season deserves to win the title, it rubs Samantha the wrong way.
“First of all, it wasn’t just there for Kyle, it’s been used for other drivers — Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and I believe Kyle Larson,” Samantha Busch said. “So, it’s not like it was just wasn’t invented for Kyle and this injury. So, that’s just the first thing that gets me a little emotional.
"It was not a vacation"
“Secondly, I think people think, ‘oh, he got to take 11 weeks off so he’s more refreshed than other drivers.’ Absolutely wrong. He was sitting there trying to learn how to bend his toes, how to move his foot, how to stand up out of bed. It was not a walk in the park for him. It was not a vacation. It was probably the hardest thing he ever done in his life. And not only did he do it with such determination and passion, but he came back so much earlier than anyone expected.”
Samantha Busch was there throughout the entire ordeal. She ran to the infield care center at Daytona and waited — only to be sent to the local hospital where the then-27-week pregnant Busch waited another 45-minutes without receiving an update.
“It was by far the scariest day of my life,” Samantha said. “I was pregnant, crying and eventually kind of yelling, ‘I need to see him. I need to know.’ Obviously, what happened to Kyle was serious, but I was thinking the worst.
“Finally, when I saw him — and was reassured —the first thing he asked was, ‘how is the baby?’ That was also on my mind. I didn’t feel him kick for most of the day. They actually stuck me into the hospital about 3 a.m. and did a scan to hear the heartbeat. From there on we just faced it as an obstacle and we did it together as a team.”
She was there during his initial recovery following the wreck to hand him stretch bands, bend his toes and help him move his legs. She was there — 10 days and two surgeries later — when, for the first time, Kyle attempted to stand on his broken leg, “saw stars” and fell back down in the bed. And she was there a week later when her husband of five years finally took his first steps.
Samantha transformed her living room into a hospital room. She helped her husband with his physical therapy and drove him to doctors appointments. In Kyle’s first post-wreck address to the media at Joe Gibbs Racing on April 15 — and when Kyle announced he’d return a month later in the All-Star Race — she was by his side.
“People don’t see what we went through, they don’t know every hour, they don’t understand how hard he worked,” Samantha said. “I think that’s why I get a little more emotional about it.”
The driver received his Chase waiver on May 13. Three days later, he finished sixth in the All-Star Race. The couple welcomed son Brexton on May 18.
Getting the first win
In NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, Busch finished 11th. He was wrecked by Brian Scott at Dover, posted his first top 10 at Pocono and lost control of the car on a wet Michigan Speedway. Feeling she needed a little back up and knowing the challenges Kyle faced on a road course, Samantha enlisted team owner Joe Gibbs to join her at the Sonoma Race.
“Kyle was running 17th and I thought, ‘oh crap, I drug coach all the way out here to run 17th,” Samantha said. “Then Kyle won it. It was the biggest race we were nervous about. It was going to be the most for his left foot. After that, he just had this sense in him. I think that really helped him regain his confidence that he could do anything.”
And he did. After the returning to Daytona for the first time since his accident, the following week Busch won the first of three consecutive races including the Brickyard 400. Six races later, Busch qualified for the Chase. Although he didn’t win until final race of the playoffs at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch was clutch when it mattered.
After the championship celebration in South Florida, Busch was whisked away to New York for his media tour. Samantha stayed behind as the sport feted Kyle Busch Motorsports’ first driver’s title in the truck series with Erik Jones. But she remained in constant touch with her boys — Kyle and Brexton via text.
While Samantha will enjoy the next couple of weeks as friends and family gather at the Busch home for Thanksgiving on Thursday and when the party moves to Las Vegas for the Sprint Cup banquet, she’s prepared for additional surgeries ahead as Kyle has plates and screws removed from his foot and leg.
“But until those pieces are removed, he’s still going to have some of that pain,” Samantha said.
Samantha had surgery herself after the Kansas race (Oct. 18) to repair discs in her back that ruptured from lifting up Brexton. It wasn’t until this past weekend that she was able to hold her baby again.
But throughout this whole crazy season, Brexton has been the brightest part of their journey.
“Just having Brexton in our lives, it’s absolutely amazing,” Samantha said. “Regardless if it’s a good day or bad, he doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. He loves us unconditionally as we love him. His smile it just makes everything better.
“In Dover, when we were running third and got wrecked, I gave Kyle that speech. Brexton was half asleep in his carrier when we went to leave. Brexton looked at him and smiled — and threw up all over him. I was like, ‘OK, well that didn’t go according to plan. But he’s awesome. And while I know he doesn't know what’s going on, it will be great to tell him this story one day.”
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