Kyle Busch won his first ever Sprint Cup championship tonight at the Ford EcoBoost 400. I know what you’re thinking: he broke his leg early this year and had to sit for 11 races. How on earth did he end up winning the championship? By owning the last half of the season, that’s how.

In his defense, yeah, he did miss a large chunk of the season. Yes, it was because he crashed out of an Xfinity Series race at the start of the year. Problem is, he hit a wall at Daytona that wasn’t protected by an impact-absorbing barrier, making his crash far worse than it should have been. That part was out of his control and the blame for having those hard walls next to the track rested on the folks who ensure that each race is safe for racing. Tracks didn’t start making safety improvements after Kyle’s wreck just because Kyle had an oops. Rather, there were safety issues that needed to be addressed.

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In other words, I understand why NASCAR waived the requirement for Busch to participate in all races to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season. You want to give racers ample time to recover before they’re back on track so they’re in the appropriate condition to race without hurting themselves further or being a danger out on track. Eleven races out were what Busch needed to get better.

“Get better” is exactly what he did. NASCAR said that he needed not just to win, but score in the Top 30 in season points to make it into the Chase. That was a tough requirement to meet in its own right, and not one that many people thought he could meet. Busch answered back with four wins before the Chase even got started — tying Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth for the most number of races won before the Chase. Busch slipped into the Chase with enough season points like it was no big deal. Tonight, he got out in front towards the end and fought tooth and nail to stay there.

Late in the race, fans let out a collective groan as a debris caution was called for a tiny piece of metal that was quickly blown off the track itself. This caution could have given the rest of the field the chance to catch up to Kyle out in front, but Busch owned the moment. On the restart, he rocketed as far ahead of fellow Chase contender and 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick as he could.

Here’s your TV-worthy comeback story, folks. Of the Chase participants, Kevin Harvick finished next, followed by Jeff Gordon and lastly, Martin Truex Jr. Retiring racer Jeff Gordon even took some time to congratulate Busch on his first-ever title.

We’ll miss Gordon next year, that’s for sure.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.

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