By: Kobe Lambeth
There are so many drivers who showcased their full potential in 2015. Ranging from stock cars, open wheel, and sportscars, picking someone to be Driver of the Year has been a tough task. Before we get to the person who deserves to be Driver of the Year, I will start with the honorable mentions.
Although Juan Pablo Montoya put on a show at the Indianapolis 500 and Scott Dixon won the title, I believe that Graham Rahal was the best IndyCar driver of 2015. Nobody expected a Honda powered team to take the fight to Chevrolet, but Team RLL defeated all of the odds. They came up short of the title, but look for Rahal to be a contender in 2016.
Lewis Hamilton was the best Formula One driver once again. He was able to defeat his Mercedes teammate and rival Nico Rosberg for the world championship. Can anyone challenge the two Mercedes drivers in 2016?
Nelson Piquet Jr. had a spectacular year in the inaugural season of the FIA Formula E Championship. After a close battle with Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi, Piquet Jr. secured the title at the London ePrix.
Sportscar driver Nick Tandy had a “dream season” for Porsche at Le Mans and in IMSA WeatherTech Championship races. His amazing season started off when he won the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans with Earl Bamber and Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg. Later on, he helped lead Porsche North America to an overall victory at the 2015 Petit Le Mans. The Porsche 911 RSR GTE machine shocked the sportscar racing world as they defeated the mighty prototypes in the wet.
All of those drivers had fantastic seasons, but my pick for Driver of the Year goes to a man who had an unbelievable comeback: Kyle Busch.
I remember sitting on the couch watching the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway. It was crunch time and the pack was getting tighter. All of a sudden, I saw one car get turned and the Big One had begun! Multi-car crashes are common at restrictor plate races. Cars were slamming into one another, but one car specifically caught my attention. The Number 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry slammed the inside wall in a spot where a SAFER barrier did not exist. I have no idea how Kyle Busch got out of the car on his own power.
The road to recovery proved to be extremely challenging as Busch suffered a broken leg and ankle. I must admit, I was scared when I saw the paramedics place Busch in the ambulance. By looking at his face, it was obvious that he was in a lot of pain. At this point, we did not know the severity of Busch’s injuries. Following surgery, Kyle Busch began intense rehab as he had the desire to get back behind the wheel.
During Busch’s absence, Matt Crafton, David Ragan, and Erik Jones drove the Number 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry. The trio did a fantastic job subbing for the injured Busch. Huge compliments to Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens for adjusting to having different drivers in the car. I know that he did not expect to work with a total of four drivers in 2015.
After a few months of rehab, Busch returned to the race car sooner than expected. As I heard the news, I wondered if he was making the right decision. This proved to be an amazing choice as Busch won at Sonoma Raceway, which is a road course! How does a driver break his leg and ankle, then come back to win at a road course? For anyone who says that race car drivers are not athletes, please reconsider that thought because you are wrong.
There are many race fans who do not like “Rowdy” because he wins constantly in NASCAR’s second tier series. You might not like him but you have to admit that his story is truly inspiring. There are not many drivers who can recover from severe injuries in months and compete at a high level. Kyle Busch’s first Sprint Cup championship was a feel-good story. Overcoming painful days and nights, becoming a father, and never giving up is the reason why he deserves to be Driver of the Year.
I understand that there is plenty of controversies on whether or not Busch is the rightful champion. He ran less races than any other Chase contender and still beat them in the end. In my opinion, I believe that Busch is definitely a true champion as he demonstrated that becoming a champion is more than just winning races. He did the unthinkable and returned from gruesome injuries, then raced his way to the grand prize. Try to tell me that someone else deserved the championship and I will have a good laugh. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. ran every single race of the season and each could have easily been champion. Harvick wanted to defend his title, Gordon wanted to go out on top, and a championship from Truex Jr would have been an emotional story. All four contenders had great stories but Kyle Busch’s story is the Comeback of the Year. It would have been nice to see Jeff Gordon go out after a wonderful career, Harvick win back to back championships, or Truex Jr. win after an emotional year. However, Kyle Busch is the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. How could you not love an inspirational comeback story?