My Brain on NASCAR: Call me crazy but I miss Kyle Busch

col-cathyelliott (2)There’s a new entry in my “Four Words You Never Thought You’d Hear in NASCAR” journal. They are “I miss Kyle Busch.” Among my circle of friends, acquaintances and random people who just feel the need to give me their opinions on racing, this succinct sentence has been repeated so many times that it has actually gone viral.

There are lots of reasons to miss Kyle Busch. When he was seriously injured during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the day before the 2015 Daytona 500, he left a hole in racing bigger than the gap in a 6-year-old’s mouth after the loss of his first tooth.

Regardless of how you feel about him personally, there is no denying that Busch is one of the most fascinating personalities in racing, and about the closest thing we have to an “old school” driver. He doesn’t back away from saying what he thinks. He is honest and brash, sarcastic and funny. He seems to be completely devoted to his wife Samantha and their new baby boy who will be joining the family in May.

Behind the wheel, he is canny, aggressive and completely focused on winning. Love him or not – and both sides have their ardent supporters – you can’t deny that watching him race is always a blast.

Except when it isn’t. Fans were horrified to see Busch make hard contact with an interior concrete wall at Daytona, then somehow crawl out of the car, lie down on the grass, and subsequently be whisked away to a nearby hospital by emergency rescue workers.

We later learned that he had sustained serious fractures in both legs, would be undergoing surgery, and would be absent from racing for an unspecified period of time.

Enter the replacement drivers. We have seen this multiple times this year, with Brian Vickers once again on blood thinners and unable to race. First Matt Crafton and then David Ragan have filled in for Busch. Ragan was subsequently named the interim driver of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota which left an open seat in the No. 34 Ford. That spot was taken over by Joe Nemecheck. It’s enough to make you dizzy; but then, NASCAR is known for traveling around in circles.

On April 15, Kyle Busch met with the media and we finally got an update straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. He talked about the crash very specifically, admitting that it was the hardest hit he has ever taken in NASCAR competition, and that he immediately knew his leg was broken.

He also admitted culpability. “From the beginning, the wreck was essentially all my fault. I was being greedy and trying to win the race and push Erik Jones and get ourselves to the front so he and I could try to decide the race between ourselves as Joe Gibbs Racing compadres,” he said. “It didn’t quite work out that way and obviously I injured myself in the process. Just a freak deal – nature of the beast I guess you’d say.

“To be honest with you, it’s fate. That’s what takes you. It doesn’t have to do so much with pure skill, it just has to do with luck and where the good lord will take you.”

He gave the group a little insider gossip for social media by commenting that Tony Stewart was the first person to visit him in the hospital after the crash. Stewart, as you probably recall, was sidelined by injury for several months after sustaining injuries during a Sprint Car race in August 2013.

Busch said that in addition to recovery and physical therapy, he has passed the time the way most of us do, by watching TV, visiting with friends, getting ready for the baby and, in his own words because you can’t make this stuff up: “I’ve got a nice window to the left of my bed that I get to look out and watch the squirrels play.”

I never saw that one coming, but it did provide yet another entry for the journal: “Kyle Busch – Squirrel Watcher.”

When those missing teeth we mentioned earlier grow back, they are bigger and stronger than before. Sometimes, they even move other teeth aside on their way to the front. They contribute to big smiles, like the one I’ll be wearing when the driver of the No. 18 works his way back into NASCAR.

Because I heard it, and now I’m saying it: I miss Kyle Busch.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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