Busch's 2008 accomplishments overshadowed by postseason fade route
Think folks will remember what Kyle Busch accomplished in 2008? Without a doubt but for all the wrong reasons, writes David Newton.
- Few if any talk about that team when recalling the greatest in NFL history, although the Redskins were a win from consecutive championships that would have elevated them near the top of the list. "That's the way it'll be remembered, a matter-of-fact thing," said then-Washington coach Joe Gibbs, who later won three championships and earned a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame.And so it will be with Kyle Busch's 2008 NASCAR season.Despite 20 victories -- eight in the Sprint Cup series, nine in the Nationwide Series and three in the Craftsman Truck Series -- he'll be no more than a footnote because he failed to win the Cup title.And he'll fall more than just a little short. Busch is last in the 12-driver field, 445 points behind Jimmie Johnson, who's on a quest to become the first driver to win three consecutive titles. Busch has finished in the top 10 only once and on the lead lap only twice in six playoff races after finishing on the lead lap in 22 of 26 events leading into the Chase. What was being hailed as one of the greatest seasons in the sport's history two months ago is now an afterthought.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtKyle Busch celebrating a Sprint Cup win in Victory Lane was a common sight ... before the Chase.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Chuck BurtonKyle Busch doesn't like to use the word "collapse" when describing the postseason letdown. "It's just unfortunate," he says.
The champion's season is how it's all remembered. That doesn't bother me. It is what it is. We had a difficult start to the Chase, and it happened.
-- Kyle Busch
Waltrip thought he had the title in the bag with seven races remaining. He had seven wins and led Richard Petty by 187 points. Things began to come unglued the following week at Dover. Petty won, and Waltrip finished 29th. The King followed that with a second at Martinsville, fourth at Charlotte, third at North Wilkesboro, first at Rockingham, sixth at Atlanta and fifth at California.Waltrip didn't do too poorly. He finished in the top 13 in the final six races and in the top eight in four of those. He actually had a two-point lead going into the finale, but eighth wasn't good enough to make him the first driver to lose the title in the last race."By the time we got to Ontario, my confidence was shot," Waltrip recalled.
Elliott led Davey Allison by 154 points, Harry Gant by 239 and Alan Kulwicki by 278 with six races to go. Even after blowing an engine the next week at Martinsville, he led Allison by 112 and Kulwicki by 191.The Dawsonville, Ga., native saw his lead shrink to 39 over Allison and 47 over Kulwicki after a 26th at North Wilkesboro and 30th at Charlotte, but he stretched it back to 70 and 85 with a fourth at Rockingham.Everything fell apart the next week at Phoenix, as Elliott finished 31st to fall to third place, 40 points behind Allison.Although Elliott won the final race at Atlanta, Kulwicki finished second to win the title by 10 points.
Waltrip was in third place, 341 points behind the leader of the Alabama Gang with 17 races remaining. He was 70 back with 10 remaining.Waltrip then won the next week at Bristol and four other times to win the championship by 53 despite a victory by Allison in the final race in Riverside, Calif.Dale Earnhardt, 1989
The seven-time champion didn't let many get away, but he did this one. He led the field by 126 with 11 races remaining and eventual champion Rusty Wallace by 155.He still maintained a 103-point edge over Wallace with six races to go after a victory at Dover. But by the time he arrived in Phoenix with two races remaining, after a last-place finish at Charlotte due to a broken camshaft and a 20th at Rockingham, he was 109 points back.Not even a win in the finale at Atlanta could overcome that last-place finish. He finished 12 points shy of a title that would have given him three straight because he won the next two.
Elliott seemed well on his way to earning the title after a win at Darlington gave him 10 on the season -- he would go on to capture 11 -- and a 206-point advantage over Waltrip with eight races remaining.Four races later, after a transmission failure left him next to last at North Wilkesboro, he trailed Waltrip by 30.Waltrip won the title by 101 points, collecting seven top-7s in the final eight races, and a 14th at North Wilkesboro was his worst finish. Elliott didn't win his one and only title until three years later, when he beat Wallace by 24 points.David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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