Injured veteran says Kyle Busch, Busch’s father-in-law ‘literally saved my life’

In the trophy case at Kyle Busch Motorsports, squeezed in between a pair of trophies signifying two of Busch’s lower series wins, there sits a much more significant piece of metal.

It’s a Purple Heart, accompanied by a letter from its previous owner — Chris Brunelle — explaining why it deserved to be in Busch’s hands instead of his.

And to hear Brunelle tell it, it’s quite a story.

Chris Brunelle’s Purple Heart and a letter he wrote to Kyle Busch are accompanied by a Kentucky state representative’s letter thanking Steve Sarcinella in the display case at Kyle Busch Motorsports. (Photo courtesy of Steve Sarcinella)

Brunelle served in the military for 23 years — first in the Marines and later the National Guard. He fought in the first Gulf War and made stops in places like Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Oman during his career.

But it was in Iraq — on March 30, 2005 — when Brunelle’s life changed forever.

Two months into his second tour there, Brunelle was traveling in a Humvee north of Taji (near Baghdad) when a suicide bomber used a car bomb to blow up Brunelle’s vehicle.

The explosion and impact killed Brunelle’s gunner — Spc. Eric Toth — and sent the Humvee into the air. It also badly burned another occupant, Ricky Brooks. Though Brunelle was unconscious at the time, he later learned the Humvee rolled five times after traveling 25-30 feet in the air.

Another unit, approximately 45 seconds up the road from Brunelle, immediately turned around to come back. They found Brunelle lying in the road, which was remarkable since the vehicle had heavy doors that can only be opened from the inside. To this day, Brunelle has no explanation for how he was ejected but believes it was divine intervention.

After being “burned up pretty bad,” Brunelle was sent to Fort Knox, Ky. to recover physically. But mentally, the wounds were still raw.

As time went on, Brunelle suffered badly from post traumatic stress disorder and spiraled downward while trying to handle with it on his own. He turned to drinking, dealt with marriage problems and constantly felt scared — even of sleeping, since he knew as soon as he closed his eyes, he would relive the moment that he wished to escape.

One day, while sitting outside at the bar he’d built outside his home, Brunelle decided to end his life.

“I said, ‘The hell with it,’” he said. “I’m gonna finish this. I’m going to drink this beer and then I’m going to end it all. I’m done fighting and arguing. This is fighting a fight you can’t win.”

By an incredible coincidence, it was then that one of his twin daughters came outside.

“Daddy, I just want to tell you I love you,” she said.

That calmed Brunelle down enough that he decided not to go through with the suicide plan. Shaken, he turned on the TV — to ESPN or FOX, he can’t remember which — and saw a story that resonated with him.

It was a story about how Kyle Busch had gotten in a career-threatening accident at Daytona, only to push through rehab, walk again and get back in the car for the NASCAR All-Star Race.

To this day, Brunelle has never met Busch. But he insists Busch saved his life.

“I’ve seen a lot of people hurt and messed up, so you grow immune to stuff like that,” Brunelle said. “But I saw that story and the Good Lord meant for me to see it that day. It made something click inside. It made me think. And from that day on, it’s been different.”

So as a gesture of his appreciation for Busch’s inspiration, Brunelle decided to send Busch his Purple Heart.


Like packages and fan mail tend to do, Brunelle’s parcel containing the Purple Heart sat in a bin at Joe Gibbs Racing for a time before eventually reaching Busch.

Steve Sarcinella, Samantha Busch’s dad and Busch’s father in law, was at the driver’s home shortly after the package had been opened and was shocked by what he saw.

“Kyle said, ‘Steve, what’s this?’” Sarcinella recalled. “I said, ‘That’s a Purple Heart! Where did you get this? Do you know how big a Purple Heart is?’”

Busch had no idea what to do with it, so Sarcinella called a neighbor who suggested Busch put it on display at his race shop. That sounded like the most appropriate way to handle such an honor, so they put it in the trophy case at KBM. Sarcinella decided to call Brunelle and tell him about what happened.

That was the first time Brunelle and Sarcinella spoke, but it was far from the last. On a daily basis since then — for more than two years — Sarcinella has either called or texted Brunelle to see how he’s doing, send a Bible verse or pass along a motivational quote.

Every day.

“He doesn’t have to do it, but he does it,” Brunelle said. “If it hadn’t been for them two, I’d probably be a statistic right now.”

Sarcinella hosted Brunelle at the Kentucky race last year and also had him come visit the race shop in North Carolina. He was moved by what Brunelle has gone through and figured it wasn’t much of an inconvenience to reach out to someone who could use some support each day.

“God says if we can help just one person, we’re doing good, aren’t we?” Sarcinella said. “If that’s all I’m put on this Earth for, is to help Chris, then so be it.”


So why is this story coming out now? Brunelle, now 47, is intensely loyal to Busch and Sarcinella for their respective roles in changing the direction of his life, and it bothers him greatly when people talk poorly about Busch.

That’s why, when he heard a reporter talking about Busch on Sirius/XM Radio recently, he reached out with an email in hopes of sharing his story.

“People don’t understand what these guys have done,” Brunelle said. “People want to see the bad and no one wants to see the good. I’ve seen so much bad in my life.”

Brunelle said he has no motivations other than to tell people his story about how Busch inspired him and Sarcinella took it from there. Their collective actions, Brunelle said, “literally saved my life.”

“It’s about doing what’s right,” Brunelle said of sharing his story. “I don’t want nothing. I just want people to know what these guys have done.”

Chris Brunelle (center) and Steve Sarcinella (right) formed a friendship that helped save Brunelle’s life, the veteran says. (Photo courtesy of Chris Brunelle)

23 Replies to “Injured veteran says Kyle Busch, Busch’s father-in-law ‘literally saved my life’”

  1. How many drivers have tried to warn the fans? Stewart, Gordon, even Logano today on RaceHub. “There is a good chance you are not going to like us when you stick a microphone in our face right after we get out of a car.”

    And it is THAT for which Shrub is hated most — his post race behavior. It is good we can hear about off track behavior.

    1. Too bad. He is who he is. Your pet names for Kyle at this moment are not needed. Save them for a race. This is a humanitarian story and name calling is completely disrespectful.

    2. this is a awesome story fans just won’t admit that kyle does awesome things for people they just want to hate on someone most are small minded people and can’t see beyound the sport that kyle is in I personally think kyle is a awesome person and driver

  2. Maybe , just maybe, next time Kyle does something people don’t like they, me included, will think back to the good he does.

  3. Kyle is a great driver ,father,and has a big heart .I personally don’t give a dam what the kyle Busch haters say I have been a Busch fan since he started in nascar .The main reason people don’t like him is no matter what race car or truck he gets in he don’t want to accept anything but first place that makes him a real good driver .The other drivers are just jealous.

  4. I’ve been a Kyle Busch fans since he been driving in nascar . fans dont hear all the good this man and his family has done this story broke my heart .So haters the nex time you want to boo him you should be cheering him on .What a great driver and a great man.

  5. Beautiful story. God works in mysterious ways and Chris Brunelle was meant to hear Kyle’s story. So glad his father in law Steve acted on the letter and recognized how important the Purple Heart was and how it deserved a proper place to be displayed. May you continue your recovery Chris and may our Lord keep you in his loving care.

  6. Great article. This happens all thru the garage and has for a long time. Unsung heroes as we call them. Good to get some published.

  7. I have followed both kurt and Kyle from the beginning. They both raced go carts in vegas with my friends children. I worked and lived in vegas for many years and both men are great people!! They spend large amounts of time and money helping other’s not so fortunate. I am a true blue #18, kyle fan. I love his determination. We should all have that. They are a great role model for kids and adults.

  8. I hope Kyle gets to meet this war veteran very soon, it was a very touching story God Bless Chris Brunelle

  9. Absolutely heartwarming story from this Veteran about how Kyle impacted his life. We all need to remember that the extreme levels of frustration and competition that are present immediately after losing a hard fought race are not reflective of the driver’s overall professionalism, talent and enormous contributions to the sport and community.

  10. I’ve been a Kyle Busch fan for about 10 years now and have met him twice. Once through the NASCAR HOF and once at his Fan Appreciation Day last May. He is in fact a class act IMO. He takes time to actually talk to his fans. I have met his wife and his father in law also at his shop and they too are down to earth real people. I too am a Veteran and also have a Purple Heart from my first tour of duty in Vietnam. I tip my hat to Mr. Brunelle for I know how he must have felt when he gave his award to Kyle and my respect to the Busch family for respecting that Purple Heart in the manner that they have done.

  11. People don’t often hear about what he does off the track. Far more than he shares on social media. How easily could Kyle have used this story when fans come down on him?

    He’s a hard competitor. He’s an amazing man. He actually deserved far more recognition. The fact that non-sanctimonious drivers are more than happy to defend Kyle – like the ever-humble Junior, as an example – should give people a minute’s pause. I still maintain Junior defends Kyle, because he reminds of him his father.

    Fierce competitor, not afraid to speak his mind, hated losing and would do what it took to win…. and an amazing man off-track.

    I followed Samantha long before him, because she used to blog the most hilarious stories, but also blog about her “cheap” makeup and styling loves. Chick has all the money in the world and she buys drug store mascara. Now she’s using her good to help others have babies through their foundation. In a nearly unique foundation, they created a foundation to fund IVF for women. They are creating life.

    Who can hate that? So when Jeff left, and my twins were Kyle fans because he drove candy (their words!), I came to Kyle too, just purely for his and Samantha’s openly-displayed love and affection, he includes her in everything. I didn’t care if he was a winner on track, I came for their humanity!

  12. I’m a Joey Logano fan, and I appreciate all the good the driver’s do to help the less fortunate.

  13. I met Kyle in 2005. He was standing all by himself at the top of a hill on a Tuesday night at a short track in WI. At the time he was driving the 84 Cup car and 5 NBS car for HMS. No one was by him. So I just walked up and said “hello.” and small talked for a while. Two years later, at the same short track, I was sitting in the stands waiting for the driver’s meeting to start. Kyle came over and sat next to me. He took a glance, and remembered the conversation we had two years earlier. Now he didn’t win that day, but the fact that he took a few moments to chat with a nobody meant a lot to me. Kyle has never been my favorite, but that day he earned my respect.

  14. I was touched by this heartwarming story. I always knew Kyle was a good person and so awe inspiring. Happy that Chris Brunelle did not take a step that is final and cannot be undone. And I am sure his daughters would say the same. Kyle does a lot of good for many people and the haters don’t want to know it or admit it. I think he wins too much for those whom are not his fans. And that is too bad, fir THEM. I can say all of #rowdynation is proud he is our driver and always will be. I wish Chris Brunelle and his family all the best. And thank you Chris for all the sacrifices you’ve made so we can enjoy our lives here at home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I applaud you Chris. And Thank you Jeff Cluck for bringing this story to light. 👍🏁

  15. Love to hear that someone found hope and a new lease on life in Kyle’s no quit attitude. We never know who is watching and how it will effect them. Reminds me to never quit no matter how hard life gets!!

  16. Kyle Busch is an emotional, passionate driver. All these haters would probably act no different after they’ve had a bad day and had a microphone shoved in their face. Give the guy a break. He does so much good for so many! What a wonderful story I wish Chris all the best. God bless.

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