On Sunday afternoon, millions of Americans will sit in their homes, turn on the television to NBC, perhaps even have a bowl of M&M’S Crispy available for their watch party as they tune in to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Championship race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the race might also feel a whole lot like a movie with hopes of a storybook ending — perhaps a Sunday-afternoon matinee?
We know how the beginning of the movie starts as Busch was injured in the season-opening NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February. The injuries — a broken right leg and a broken left foot — kept him out for the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup season. Upon his return, Busch kept adding to the script, winning four out of five races during a blazing hot summer stretch, but not without some other adversity along the way.
After returning in May, Busch needed a win, along with enough points to make it into the top-30 in the driver standings in order to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. However, after a disappointing 43rd-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in June, Busch had no wins and was in a deep hole in his quest to crack the top-30 as he sat 173 points behind the 30th-place driver.
Not about to give up, Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire M&M’S Crispy team rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Using the off weekend following Michigan as a point to refocus, the team turned around its season in late June by winning at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The win started the aforementioned remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Just five races later, Busch had enough points to clinch a top-30 spot in the standings following the 25th race of the season at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. With the Chase starting two races later, Busch and his team rolled up their sleeves again, putting in a workmanlike Chase filled with five top-five finishes and six top-10s in order to make it to the Championship Round this weekend at Homestead.
While Busch does not have any Homestead wins, he’s run much better there than his results have shown. This is the first time in his 11-year Sprint Cup career that he has entered the final race eligible for the Sprint Cup championship. Busch dominated the 267-lap season finale in 2012, leading six times for a race-high 191 laps. But while he had the dominant car, the Las Vegas native had to settle for a fourth-place finish after a long, green-flag run to the checkered flag saw the M&M’S team come up short on fuel and foiled a seemingly certain win in the closing laps. He backed up his strong run from 2012 with an eighth-place finish in 2013 and had a strong run going last year before a driveline issue put him in the garage for several laps, foiling another chance at the win.
But as we’ve learned about NASCAR’s championship, what matters is the present, as Busch has the full support of JGR and Toyota behind him as the lone entry vying for this year’s title. Busch now has a shot to battle fellow title contenders Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. in a one-race, winner-take-all finale that will certainly be worthy of a Hollywood movie.
So, as Busch heads to South Florida with a lot on the line, it will be time to sit back and enjoy the Sunday-afternoon matinee. We will have to wait and see how movie ends for Busch and the M&M’S Crispy team, but the bulk of the season-long “movie” has certainly been worth the price of admission.