Tom Sorensen

NASCAR’s flexibility makes Kyle Busch relevant, and that’s good

Kyle Busch, right, gets a handshake while walking to his car to practice for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race ub Concord on Friday. Busch is back for the first time since breaking his right leg and left foot in a Feb. 21 crash.
Kyle Busch, right, gets a handshake while walking to his car to practice for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race ub Concord on Friday. Busch is back for the first time since breaking his right leg and left foot in a Feb. 21 crash. AP

Tiger Woods had back surgery, took time off and scrambled in his attempt to make the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs. Woods no longer was the best player in his sport, but because of his popularity he was the most important. If he made the playoffs, interest jumps. He failed.

But wait. Couldn’t golf have twisted the rules to grant Tiger a waiver?

This is golf, and a waiver was never considered.

The day before the Sprint Cup season began, Kyle Busch ran the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. On the 112th lap Busch was knocked off the track, across the grass and into a hard wall. He broke his right leg and left foot.

Busch missed the season’s first Sprint Cup 11 races. NASCAR’s championship has long been predicated on the theory that there is no next-best thing to being there. Fail to run every race and you can’t compete for the title.

But, you know, things happen. NASCAR has granted Busch a medical waiver and an opportunity to compete for the championship. He’ll return to the track Saturday to run the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Fifteen points races remain before the Chase begins, and Busch plans to run each of them. The first is the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24.

With NASCAR and the PGA Tour sharing Charlotte this week, we could manufacture contrived connections between the sports.

Or we could make it simple. Both sports have cultures, traditions and rules. Despite Tiger’s popularity, golf was not going to contrive changes to make Tiger eligible. NASCAR never considered doing anything but making Busch eligible.

Every sport has rules, but they don’t use the same devices to record them. In golf, rules are written in ink and on computer screens. NASCAR rules are written in sand and on Etch A Sketches

I was once at NASCAR headquarters and asked if the organization had a rulebook. I was told it did. With numbers and words and everything? I asked. With numbers and words and everything, I was told. I asked if I could see it and was told I could.

I thought the rulebook would be tucked under thick glass and surrounded by big snakes or, at the very least, thick guards. It was not.

That was one surprise. The other is that the rulebook had only one page. Nah, I can’t remember how many pages the rulebook had. There might have been two.

Some NASCAR rules are sacrosanct; drivers risk their lives when they get in those cars; there has to be order and there should be soft walls.

There’s also beautiful flexibility. Why allow rules to impede the show?

Busch’s waiver is the fourth NASCAR has granted in less than two years.

A sport requires an identity, and flexibility is NASCAR’s. Can you imagine NASCAR lore without the wondrous Junior Johnson? He starts to talk and my tape recorder comes out even if he’s talking about groceries.

To make the Chase, Busch will have to finish in the top 30 in points, and he’ll have to win a race. His talent is unquestioned, and he believes he should be at the front of the pack. He has dedicated his career to proving it.

Busch, who turned 30 two weeks ago, is not as important to his sport as Tiger is to golf. But he is important. Despite those blasting engines, NASCAR is far quieter without him. Fans need somebody to boo and, among others, they choose him.

This could change. Busch has been hurt and he worked hard to return before anybody anticipated, and he’s about to be a father. You have to admit you missed him and, yeah, he’s going to get booed.

But thanks, NASCAR. And Kyle, welcome back.  

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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