HOMESTEAD, Fla.—When he crashed into a concrete wall at Daytona, Kyle Busch instantly knew his right leg and left foot were broken.
His first thought was that his career was over.
“I was really worried,” Busch admitted. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get back in a car again.’
“It did cross my mind. I was thinking, ‘My wife’s pregnant and I got no job,’” he added.
“I think that’s just the emotion that goes through in that moment.”
Busch completed a comeback for the ages yesterday when he won at Homestead-Miami Speedway to earn his first Sprint Cup championship.
It came nine months after his crash into a concrete wall the day before the Daytona 500—a wreck that forced NASCAR to make serious safety improvements across the circuit.
Busch watched the season-opener from a hospital bed, had multiple surgeries, and withstood a gruelling rehabilitation program.
He wound up missing just 11 races and returned to his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota right before his 30th birthday—and right before wife, Samantha, gave birth to their first child, a son.
In the hours after that February crash at Daytona, no one predicted he’d end the year as champion.
“I was just terrified that he was really, really in bad shape,” said crew chief Adam Stevens.
“I didn’t know what shape his legs were in, if it was going to be this year or next year, or if he would walk again.”
But once he was back in the car, there was no stopping Busch.
He reeled off four wins in five weeks to earn a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, then weathered three rounds of eliminations to knock Kevin Harvick from his perch as reigning champ.
Busch also denied Jeff Gordon a fifth crown in his final race.
Harvick finished a distant second yesterday, Gordon was sixth, and Martin Truex Jr., the fourth driver in the “Chase,” finished 12th.
There was a strong sentimental push for Gordon to go out on top in his final race.
But he only was average all season, and that didn’t change last night in front of a huge contingent of friends and family that included Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and Mario Andretti, who both sat atop his pit box at the start of the race.
Gordon led nine laps early in the race and was third for an early restart, but he bobbled it and plummeted to eighth.
That was about as good as he’d be the rest of the race as he struggled mightily with the handling of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“Gosh, I’m a little disappointed, I’ll be honest,” Gordon said.
“I thought going into the race we had something for them.”
Gordon eventually made his way to victory lane to congratulate Busch, who began his career as Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
Temper tantrums and wrecked race cars led to his release before the 2008 season—and Busch has been chasing a Cup championship ever since.
He’s the most successful driver in the second-tier Xfinity Series and on Friday, he captured his fourth owners’ championship in the Truck Series.
“All he’s been through this year, nobody’s more deserving than him,” Gordon said about the new champion.