INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Busch played the Tom Brady card Sunday in an oh-so-perfect summation of all the intangible instigation he brings to NASCAR that resonates well beyond his boundless talent.
After his first win in the Brickyard 400, and his fourth in the past five Sprint Cup races, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was asked about those who insist he is unworthy of championship eligibility because he missed the first 11 races of the season.
“I don’t care what people say,” Busch said. “They pay me to be behind the wheel, and unfortunately due to injury, I wasn’t able to attend the first 11 races of the season. It’s not like I didn’t want to be there, but my team was still there, and if we win a championship, then it’s not that they’re going to take it away from me.
“As far as right now, Tom Brady is going to be suspended for the first four games of the season, and then he’s probably going to go on and compete for a championship and might even win the Super Bowl, and I doubt anybody is going to take away a Super Bowl championship from that gentleman.”
And then he doubled down in the home of the other team embroiled in the Deflate-gate scandal that resulted in a suspension for the quarterback of the New England Patriots.
“If (Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck got suspended for four weeks and then he participated in the championship game, he’d still be considered a champion,” Busch said. “Either way.”
NASCAR has entered its peak “Rowdy” phase in every way possible.
And it’s glorious.
A season whose first half largely was missing the drama that makes stock-car racing alluring has landed on the storyline that just keeps giving.
That Busch was giving it back Sunday night makes it even better.
The lightning rod of the Sprint Cup Series is armed with innumerable fodder to troll NASCAR Nation with incessant justification.
Yes, if you like applying the letter of the law with the zealotry of a corporate drone who worries about how to staple expense reports, then there might be a rational argument to be constructed for why Busch shouldn’t qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But if you’re of a sound mind, it’s fallacy. He missed 11 races because his car smacked a wall unprotected by a SAFER barrier at Daytona International Speedway, leaving his right leg and left foot a jangled mess.
Complicit in those circumstances, NASCAR deservedly granted Busch a waiver from the rule requiring him to start every race to make the Chase. But he still had to win and make up an 11-race points deficit to reach the top 30 in the standings.
Nine races into his comeback, he’s on the cusp of achieving both well before the regular-season deadline. It’s inconceivable he could be deemed undeserving of racing for the title.
The high ground belongs to the driver that many love to hate.
This is a good thing. Busch, 30, is a recent father and a more mature and measured version of the brash and irascible star who once was famous for storming off after races and smashing a guitar in victory lane.
But another side of Busch still lurks that is polarizing and alluring all at once. Though he has yet to win a championship, he shares some of the swagger that makes Brady a superstar some can’t stand.
In the most memorable stretch of his career before this five-weak tear, Busch once flipped off his former Hendrick Motorsports team members while winning eight of his first 22 starts with JGR in 2008.
It wasn’t the classiest, but it was a captivating moment in a sport too often bleached of its personalities. NASCAR needs its villains, even if Busch donning a black hat is more about archetypes and caricatures than real life.
The surge has magnified his magnetism in a way best expressed Sunday by Joey Logano, who has finished runner-up to Busch twice in three weeks.
“I’m glad he’s back and all, but geez oh Pete, you don’t have to come back like that,” Logano said. “Man, we’ve been working our guts out all year, and he comes right back and is doing it. That’s amazing, the run they’re on. Obviously he’s definitely going to make it into the Chase.
“He’s got four wins? Golly.”
That kind of awe would prompt a smirk from Busch.
And a scream from his detractors.
Much like Brady and his Patriots, there often isn’t much harmony in the land of Rowdy.
And that means happiness in the world of NASCAR