Will Kurt Busch be NASCAR’s Cinderella Driver in 2016?

Kurt Busch
Photo: Getty Images

As I was going through some boxes of long-forgotten toys that my kids had stashed away in our basement, I came across a VHS tape somehow stuck in the mix. It was Cinderella. And for those of you who are wondering what a VHS tape is, it’s the predecessor to CDs and DVDs.

As I looked at the box that encased the tape, I started to think about the last two NASCAR seasons, when we’ve had several Cinderella stories. Sure, there were Kevin Harvick’s and Kyle Busch’s own Cinderella-like stories and how they won the Sprint Cup championship in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Then there were two other Cinderella types, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex, Jr.

Newman went through the entire 2014 season without a win, yet somehow managed to finish a close second to Harvick in the championship battle. Ironically enough, Newman still hasn’t won a race since the 2013 Brickyard 400.

And then there was the Cinderella story – or one that I also like to call the Little Engine That Could – of Martin Truex, Jr. in 2015. Truex reached the championship round, going further than any single-car team in the 12-year history of the Chase.

Then I got to thinking, who will be the 2016 Cinderella story in NASCAR? Who will come out of virtually nowhere – as Newman and Truex did in their respective seasons – to be this coming season’s story of the underdog who makes good?

There’s more than enough candidates, but the more I considered who may make it all the way to the championship round – and may have a legitimate shot of winning the title – the more I kept going back to the same driver.

Kurt Busch.

I’m convinced that Busch will potentially not only reach the championship round, he has a real legitimate shot at winning his second career Chase championship (remember, he won the first Chase back in 2004).

I’ve followed the older Busch brother’s career very closely over the years. Admittedly, he’s had his shares of troubles. He was dumped by Jack Roush with two races left in the 2005 season. He lost his ride with Roger Penske after the 2011 season following and angry, expletive-filled confrontation with a reporter in the season-ending race at Homestead.

And then came the ignominious three-race suspension at the start of the 2015 season for alleged domestic violence.

Despite missing the first three races, Busch still managed to qualify for the Chase and finished eighth in the overall standings. What’s more, even with his shortened dance card in 2015, Busch still went on to enjoy his best season performance-wise since 2009: earning the same number of wins (2), top-fives (10) and top-10s (21) in both seasons.

Busch has more than paid his debt to NASCAR and society for his past misdeeds. He’s repented and may very well find himself in the best place in his life entering the 2016 season.

With no distractions, I’m convinced Busch is going to kick some serious ass this season. In a season where the sport will be watching his teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, in his final season, as well as teammate Harvick making his third bid to finish either first or second, Busch could potentially steal the spotlight and thunder from both of his Stewart-Haas Racing stablemates.

Sure, there are other potential Cinderella types that may have breakout or comeback seasons. Among those are Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and several others.

But when I look at the various situations each driver is in, along with the year they’re coming off of in 2015, I keep going back time after time, name after name, to Kurt Busch.

In my opinion, just one race came between Busch and the championship round in 2015, his 34th place finish at Martinsville to kick off the semi-final round. He went from tied for first entering the race to seventh afterward, and he could never recover enough points-wise in the next two races.

Whereas Busch came up just short in 2015, he’s going to be like a wide receiver in the NFL going long … potentially all the way for the touchdown and championship in 2016.

You read it here first, 10 months ahead of time.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

About Jerry Bonkowski 38 Articles
Jerry Bonkowski is a veteran motorsports writer who has worked for USA Today (15 years), ESPN.com (3 1/2 years), Yahoo Sports (4 1/2 years) and is in his third year with NBCSports.com's NASCAR Talk and MotorSportsTalk. He also is a regular on-air host for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (14 years). Jerry has been married for 30 years to Cyndee, the love of his life, and they are the proud parents of three adult children (still waiting for his first grandchild!). Twitter: @JerryBonkowski
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