In late February If you had told me that Kyle Busch was going to end up winning the Chase for the NASCAR Championship I would have thought you were crazy. That is because the night before the Daytona 500 during the Xfinity Series opener he was involved in a nasty crash that left him with a broken right leg and left foot. Many people figured that he had no hope of coming back to be competitive during the season. After missing the first eleven races of the season, three months after his nasty wreck, Kyle Busch made his return to the 18 car. After receiving a medical waiver to attempt to compete in the Chase, the playoff system that determines the Champion, at the end of the season Busch had another very long battle to even qualify.
After getting his first win of the season, the focus for the 18 team shifted to getting within the top 30 in points. This is because in order to qualify for the Chase on wins you have to be inside the top 30 in drivers points. Drivers points are earned based on finishing position. The winner of the race receives 43 points, scoring goes down by 1 point all the way down to last place getting 1 point, just for positioning. Then points get get doled out for a few other events in the race, 5 points for the actual win, 1 point for anyone leading a lap and one more point for leading the most laps.
Kyle Busch was able to get within the top 30 in points with a couple of races left to spare before the Chase. Then he was able to advance through the Chase all the way to the Champions 4 Round. This is a one week, highest finisher out of the four drivers still eligible for the Chase wins the Championship. Last year Kevin Harvick had to win the race in order to secure his Championship, and late in this year’s race it appeared that it was going to take the same result for this years Champion.
In the end, a late restart and pit stop would decide the race. With 7 laps left Kyle Busch entered the pits 3rd and would have started on the second row with Kevin Harvick. The 18 pit crew did what they had to do to get Busch out of the pits in 2nd and on the first row for the restart. Busch had a great restart and ended up in front of the pack. From there on it was all over as Busch drove away from the rest of the field to win his first NASCAR Championship.
Also occurring in this race was the grande finale to the career of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon. Gordon was unable to win his fifth championship, finished 6th in the race, and go out on top.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has had many legends throughout the years. The most well known throughout the generations was the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. One of the drivers who many of the newest generation of NASCAR fans have supported is about to drive in his final race. Before the season began, Jeff Gordon announced his plans to retire after the final race of the 2015 NASCAR season. When Gordon’s final journey began in late February, few could have imagined the final race of his career would have the the importance that this Sunday’s race at Homestead Miami Speedway would have.
With a win this weekend would add a 94th win to his resume, which is the third most all time behind NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). A win Sunday would also guarantee Gordon would win his fifth NASCAR Championship which would keep him alone with the fourth most in NASCAR history. The only drivers with more are in the Hall of Fame, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven wins, and one active driver and a lock to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, Jimmy Johnson with six.
Another reason this championship would be significant to Gordon is because he has not won a title since the end of the 2001 season when he won his fourth title in seven years. The main significance relates more to his family life because that last championship was six years before he had kids. Winning would special for him as he would be able to share this experience with his eight year old daughter and five year old son.
For the Millennials who have grown up watching the “Rainbow Warrior” race week in and week out this will be a sad moment as Jeff Gordon drives off into the sunset assured that he will finish in the final four in his final year. Gordon was able to bring in a whole new region of fans when he proved that a California kid could compete with the best the Southern racing tradition had to offer. Without his breakthrough it is easy to think that we may not have been graced with other drivers from so called nontraditional racing areas, one being six-time Champion Jimmy Johnson who also hails from California.
Looking forward to the next chapter in NASCAR, the 24 car will once again be graced with yet another phenom of the sport in the form of the young Chase Elliott. Already the young Elliott, son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, has won a Championship in the Xfinity Series, the second tier in NASCAR, and at only 19, turns 20 in a few weeks, there is still a lot of room for him to grow into the sport. Elliott plans to race in the final Sprint Cup race of the year this Sunday which will be his sixth appearance in the series this season. Through the first five he has three top 20 finishes and will be looking to improve on that number heading into next year.