MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 25, 2008) - When Kurt Busch scored his first victory as a full-time competitor on the elite NASCAR Sprint Cup tour on March 24, 2002, little did he know that he'd start a winning streak that would continue now for seven straight seasons, placing him in a tie for second-place on the continuous winning seasons list.
Busch's streak began with that 2002 victory at Bristol in only his sixth race as a fixture on the circuit and continued with his win at New Hampshire in June of this year, his 18th career victory.
"That's something that I am really proud of, to have been to Victory Lane at least once during each and every season that I've been a full-time driver," said Busch. "When you look at great racers like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick who were not able to continue their winning streaks this season, it certainly magnifies the value of what we've been able to do through the years."
Only Tony Stewart, who was able to extend his annual winning streak to 10 years with his controversial victory at Talladega in October, has a longer winning streak. Busch is tied with three-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson for second.
When Busch moved to Penske Racing in 2006 to take over the driving duties for the Miller Lite Dodge Team from retiring racing legend Rusty Wallace, he was able to win the March race at Bristol in only his fifth start for the team. His wins over the last three seasons have been responsible for boosting Penske Racing's continuous winning streak to 18 years.
"That's gotta be a great trivia question that you can use at the bar while you're enjoying a cold Miller Lite," Busch said of the Penske Racing streak which is the second-longest in the sport. "Our winning streak at Penske is second only to Hendrick Motorsports (23 years). It's longer than Roush Racing's (12 years), longer than Joe Gibbs' Racing's (16 years) and longer than Richard Childress Racing's (four years). Even through the difficult seasons like we had this year, we've still been able to win races. That fact is certainly something that our team takes great pride in."
Busch points to the 2008 season being the first year for running the new COT model cars exclusively as an additional reason to treasure any taste of victory you could get.
"We didn't make the Chase this season and that was extremely disappointing," said Busch. "But when you look at it from the angle of who won races and who didn't, it was quite incredible that when the Chase began after the September Richmond race, five of the 12 drivers had not won races.
"Like I said several times this season and I still stand behind my belief that the new car didn't produce the results NASCAR was looking for, or at least it hasn't yet." Busch offered. "This car was supposed to create more parity. It was supposed to create an equal playing field for everybody. What it has done is it has separated a select few and allowed them to win all the races. When I first started in 2001, there were 19 different winners. I think that might be the record. There were guys that were 25th in points winning races (three winners from outside the top 25) because cars handled different and the cars drove different.
"It just seems like with this car, if you get hot, you're hot," Busch added. "Looking back on the year, Jimmie Johnson had seven wins. My little brother had eight wins. Carl Edwards won nine races. Carl more than doubled his win total in one season with the year he had. When you are hot with this car, you stay hot.
"I certainly don't want it to come off sounding like sour grapes because we had the same opportunity as all the other teams out there. It just shows how much our team and others have struggled with the new car. We're scratching and clawing to get back up there at the top and be consistent threats to win. That's our main goal as we put this season behind us and look ahead to the 2009 season."
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and first under the current Chase format, suggests that maybe it's time for some tweaking to the system in order to have additional fan appeal.
"I think it was Darrell Waltrip who came up with the best modification to the Chase I've heard," said Busch. "It's just a minor change that would make the Chase format better. His idea was to include all the guys who are in the top-12 in points after the 26th race concludes at Richmond, but also give eligibility to any other driver in the top 20 in points who had won races. It would add a big premium to winning.
"This season, that move would have added Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and our team to the field and it would have been up to 15 teams that were eligible," said Busch. "I know that may sound a little self-serving because we were in that group, but I really am looking at the big picture when I say that I totally support DW's idea.
"Just look back at 2007 when we made the Chase," Busch said. "That change to the format would have allowed Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya into the Chase. NASCAR bumped it up to 12 drivers eligible from 10 after the first year and I think this would be a great extension of that line of thinking to make the Chase more interesting and competitive."
Such a setup for the Chase would have added Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Rusty Wallace and Greg Biffle to the field in 2004. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne would have been added in 2005, while the elder Busch would have been included in the 2006 Chase roster.