By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
FORT WORTH, Texas – For many years, Kyle Busch hasn’t endeared himself to the NASCAR community, but the defending Sprint Cup Series champion now believes the tide has turned.
Busch has been showered with boos ever since becoming a regular contender over the past decade. Unquestionably talented, the Nevada native showed promise, but his attitude and on-track persona never resonated well with fans.
That is, until February 21, 2015.
It was on that day Busch sustained injuries in an XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway that would sideline for the first three months of the season. During that time, Busch witnessed the birth of his son, Brexton, while also enduring a grueling rehab program.
Fans began to see a different side of Busch.
Busch’s wife, Samantha, shared her husband’s remarkable journey back through various social media channels. The public saw a different side of Busch and it resonated with the NASCAR community. So, when it came time for Busch finally get back behind the wheel of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, it was easy to see why fans rallied behind him.
After checking off every box that NASCAR required for him to qualify for the Chase, Busch found himself as one of the four remaining drivers in a winner-take-all race at Homestead. In a comeback story scripted for Hollywood, Busch drove away from championship rival Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to seize his first career Sprint Cup title.
The story had indeed come full circle.
The boos lessened and cheers rattled the grandstands, fans had showed their appreciation for Busch’s incredible journey.
Enter the 2016 season and nothing has changed, leaving Busch to reflect on his time turning from villain to hero.
“Last year, when I came back, I was booed a little bit,” said Busch “But there was certainly some cheers around being able to get back in the race car, get back to the race track – things like that – but then I started winning again and it kind of went away.
“It seemed like not only did I go back to my winning ways, but it seemed like the fans kind of went back to their old ways of how they treated me, but I feel like through the championship and things like that obviously I’ve grown a little bit, but obviously too I think my reputation’s kind of grown a little bit as well and I think it’s just – it’s a never-ending evolution of people in the sport.
“You look at every single driver that’s gone through the sport over the years and they’ve all kind of gown through that – every popular one maybe I should say – Rusty (Wallace), DW (Darrell Waltrip), Dale Jarrett I think even, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon especially and (Dale) Earnhardt, so you’ve seen those transitions happen and I feel like this is maybe mine.
“I’ve now been here – this is 12 seasons I think, so it’s been a while. I am only 30 – I did start probably a lot younger than many of the other ones did and made a lot a more mistakes in my younger age than many of them did, but I think it will be – hopefully will be pretty memorable by the time it’s all said and done.”
Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR