July 17, 2008

Kyle Busch Is This Year's Jeff Gordon

We've seen Kyle like this a lot in 2008. (Getty Photo)

Kyle Busch has dominated the 2008 NASCAR season so far, and much of the media attention has naturally gravitated toward him. As a result, it sounds like many people are prepared to crown him the Sprint Cup Champion already, ignoring the resetting of points when the Chase begins. How quickly people forget that at this time last year Jeff Gordon was in exactly the same position, yet he failed to win the Championship.

After 19 races in the 2007 season, Gordon had amassed a 303 point lead over 2nd place Denny Hamlin, and only two drivers were within 400 points of him. Gordon had 7 poles, 12 top 5's, and an incredible 17 top 10's. His 4 wins left him tied with Jimmie Johnson for most victories through the first half of the season, but he had almost a 500 point lead on his teammate. Gordon appeared invulnerable. Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this WaPo article from October of last year.

Gordon was #1 last year, until the end. (AP Photo: Patrick Collard)

By the end of the season, Gordon had an absolutely staggering record. 30 top 10's in 36 races, 21 top 5 finishes, and 6 wins highlighted an incredible year. Unfortunately for him, Jimmie's 10 wins, many coming in the Chase, left Gordon 77 points short when it mattered. Resetting the points brought Johnson back even with Gordon, and Johnson had possibly the best 10 race stretch ever and left Gordon wondering what went wrong.

Johnson was just a nose better in the Chase last year.

Fast-forward to 2008: Through 19 races, Kyle Busch has very similar numbers with 12 top 5's and a 262 point lead over 2nd place Junior. Gordon actually had more top 10's (17 to 13) and a bigger points lead (303 to 263), and the top 5 is more bunched up this year. The only area where Busch has been better is in the win column (7 to Gordon's 4). Those wins will amount to a slight lead when the Chase starts, but the overall profile is eerily similar to Gordon's 2007 season.

Kyle Busch better hope history doesn't repeat itself in the Chase this year. Love it or hate it, the Chase levels the playing field and minimizes the effect of a fabulous first 26 races.

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