Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For the Ages

In 1998, while Jeff Gordon was in the midst of winning his third career Sprint Cup title in convincing fashion, I was confused. I didn't understand why so many fans hated Gordon and seemed insistent on expressing their displeasure every time Gordon pulled into Victory Lane. And considering how Gordon did so 13 times that season, there was plenty of hate to go around.

Now, 10 years later, I finally understand what all those Gordon haters were feeling.

I've made no secret my displeasure for Kyle Busch, from the attitude that got him bounced from Hendrick Motorsports to the demeanor that has some comparing him to a young Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt, to a move at Richmond that likely stole the most popular driver's first win in two years. As Busch took his seventh checkered flag of the season Saturday night at the 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, I felt a lot like those Gordon haters did back in '98.

Frustrated, angry, over the whole thing. A palpable sense of "Enough, already!" as the No. 18 crossed the finish line first.

Even with that, I'm somewhat perversly drawn in by Busch's dominance. I hate to give him credit, but Busch is having a season for the ages, one that could see him make a run at the modern-era wins record -- 13, held by both Gordon and Richard Petty. And if the Chase were to start in Indanapolis in two weeks, Busch would have 70 bonus points to his name. No other driver would have more than 20.

Right now, the Sprint Cup title appears to be Busch's to lose. And lose it, he may still; in a conversation Saturday night on ESPN Radio with host Bob Valvano, Mike Massaro brought up the point of peaking too soon.

Busch has won three of the last four races, becoming the epitome of the midseason hot streak. But with seven races remaining until the Chase begins, there's the chance Busch is peaking too soon, that he'll cool off or experience a run of bad luck in the later stages of the season while someone else gets hot and closes the title gap.

Consider it a by-product of the Chase; like a team that gets hot in the baseball playoffs to take the World Series, it's quite possible Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jimmie Johnson could rattle off a bunch of wins and top-5s late in the season to steal the title away.

But the way this year has gone for Busch, that's not likely. He's just too good; everything has come together in a manner of historic proportions, and even though Busch could win a couple Cup titles in his career, he may never have another year that comes close to what he's experiencing here in 2008.

And as fans, we can only hope that's the case.

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