Kyle Busch’s comeback is now officially the stuff of legends.
He is the Boston Red Sox, overcoming an 0-3 deficit with four consecutive wins to beat the rival New York Yankees for the 2004 American League championship, just days before claiming a long-awaited World Series victory with a four-game sweep of the Cardinals.
He is Willis Reed in Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, hobbling onto the court for the opening tap and gritting his teeth through a badly torn thigh muscle to lead his New York Knicks to the league championship.
He is backup quarterback Frank Reich, replacing Hall Of Famer Jim Kelly and leading the Buffalo Bills out of a 32-point second-half hole, en route to a 38-35 OT win and a spot in their third consecutive Super Bowl.
He is Michael Jordan, returning from a 17-month stint on the baseball diamond to lead the Chicago Bulls to yet another NBA title; all the while looking like he had never missed so much as a shoot-around.
By now, now fans know Busch’s story by heart. He missed the first 11 races of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign with a compound fracture of his right leg and a broken left foot suffered in a savage XFINITY Series crash at Daytona International Speedway in February. The beneficiary of solid orthopedic surgery, a dedicated rehabilitation program and an uncanny ability to heal on the fly, he returned on May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a steady – if not spectacular – 1th-place showing. A pair of crashes at Daytona and Michigan slowed his roll temporarily, but an unlikely June 28 win on the Sonoma road course triggered a five-week run of dominance that has seldom been equaled in the history of the Sprint Cup Series.
Four victories in those last five weeks – at Sonoma, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indy – have boosted Busch from “unlikely longshot” to “championship contender.” Sunday, he became the first driver to win three consecutive Sprint Cup races since Jimmie Johnson in 2007, and if his hot streak continues much longer, he can add the work “favorite” to his resume, as well.
"I can't believe this run,” said a beaming Busch, moments after the customary post-race kissing of the IMS bricks. “I just can't believe what's going on. I’m still in shock. I’m still in shock from last week. It all goes by so fast. Every week, it’s `on to the next (race)… on to the next one.’ I said after New Hampshire that nothing would be more impressive to me than winning with all three different aero packages in as many weeks, and now we did it.”
In the aftermath of his Indianapolis triumph, Busch has now claimed as many checkered flags in just nine starts as multi-time champion Johnson has managed in 20. His four victories are at least twice as many as every other competitor, and he now trails 30th-place Justin Algaier by just 23 points in his quest for the all-important 30th spot and a place in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The question is no longer “can Kyle Busch crack the Top-30 in points?”
It is now, “will he do it this week, or next?”
“It’s one of the best stories I’ve been around in sports,” said car owner Joe Gibbs, who witnessed a few Cinderella stories in his 16-year tenure as head coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. “The agony of the first part of the year, the tragedy he went through; how many guys come back from that? He’s going up against the best people (in the sport) and he’s performing. It’s not often you get to be a part of something like this, and I just thank him for letting us be a part of it.
“We were behind at the start of the season, and we spent half a year getting caught up engine-wise, chassis-wise and aero-wise. But now we’re there.”
Crew chief Adam Stevens agreed, saying the No. 18 Toyota team is ready to contend for the title.
"We've had some good fortune (this season), but today we flat-out earned it," said the rookie pit boss. "It's a championship run. We're transitioning from making the Chase to trying to win the championship."
"Maybe I found my happy place," admitted Busch, his bright red fire suit soaked with a glorious combination of perspiration and Victory Lane Gatorade. "This has been a phenomenal return. I guess I'll take (an) 11-week vacation any year, if it's going to look like this.”