By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Early last decade, a small group of beat writers were sitting around in an infield media center at a NASCAR track somewhere and were solving the racing world’s problems. The subject of Kurt Busch and his noteworthy driving talents came up.
As all nodded in agreement and then one “expert” upped the know-it-all ante and spit this out: His younger brother is even better. The nodding stopped.
Early last Sunday evening, in the darkness that had settled in on Homestead-Miami Speedway, that statement was officially transformed from spittle to reality.
Kyle Busch left defending champion Kevin Harvick panting in the late-race gloamin, cruised to victory in the season-ending Sprint Cup race at Homestead and won the 2015 championship in one of the most unlikely comeback adventures in NASCAR history.
His long march back from hospital bed to trophy-hoist was so compelling that it actually made it easy to feel good about a guy about whom it was not always easy to feel good.
Oh, it’s always been easy to marvel at Busch’s abundant and undeniable driving talent. Hell of wheelman is what he has been since coming into the sport. In everything he’s wheeled.
The problem some people had with him was his attitude, his brattiness. It irritated fans and fellow competitors alike. It likely played a part in Busch being involved in on-track scrapes with people like Kevin Harvick and in the garages at Kansas a couple years back when he was jumped by team owner Richard Childress.
That attitude also may, some say, have been somewhat responsible for Busch’s failure to win a Cup championship until this year: You don’t really have to make friends in the garages and on the track, but you simply cannot afford to pile up enemies.
Busch’s full-time Cup career began in 2005 and it began with a ride for Hendrick Motorsports, where he replaced revered Texan and former Cup champion, Terry Labonte in the No. 5 Chevrolet.
And it began decently, if not spectacularly. He won races for Hendrick in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but apparently he didn’t win many friends on Papa Joe Hendrick Drive.
In June of 2007, team owner Rick Hendrick held a press conference at which it was announced that his team had hired everybody’s favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to drive for him. In order to make room for Earnhardt Jr., Busch was let go.
At that press conference, Hendrick said the decision to party ways with Busch was friendly. He said he and Busch had been in discussions about a new contract but, It became “obvious to me that other people were talking to Kyle at the time and he was a guy in the garage area that at his age and his ability, which is an unbelievable talent; he had people picking on him just to make sure he was going to have an opening or an opportunity.”
Ultimately, Hendrick said, both he and Busch agreed a “fresh start” was needed and Busch was out and friend of the family Earnhardt was in.
Busch would go on a radio program and dispute many of the things that Hendrick said.
But in the end, Busch left, was quickly hired by Joe Gibbs Racing and the victories began to pile up. There would be eight in the Gibbs-debut season 2008 alone.