Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With seven victories in 19 Sprint Cup Series races this season, Kyle Busch is making a bid towards tying, or perhaps breaking, the NASCAR modern-era record of 13 wins in a season, set by Richard Petty in 1975 and Jeff Gordon in 1998.
It was only fitting the same day Petty celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first career start in NASCAR competition, Busch came from behind to win Saturday night's race at the Chicagoland Speedway. And he did it in style, passing two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson one and a half laps from the finish line.
Busch has won three of the last four Sprint Cup races, and now many think he's on pace to reach Petty and Gordon's shared record.
Will he do it? Who knows.
Kyle Busch is on a record pace.
Busch has to win six more races in the final 17 Cup races this season to tie the mark. He certainly has a legitimate shot at it since Bristol, California, New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega, Atlanta and Phoenix remain on the schedule, and Busch has already won at those tracks during his five-year Cup career.
This season, Busch and his No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team have somehow found a way to victory lane whether its been at an intermediate, one-mile, road course, or restrictor-plate track.
Busch overcame tire and steering wheel issues and fought his way back from deep in the field to win earlier this month at Daytona.
At two separate times, Busch made pit stops just before a caution flag, and it set him up with the lead on the final run to the checkered flag last month at Sonoma, CA.
In May, Busch overcame a pit-road mishap to win at Darlington. He was slapped with a drive-through penalty for a lug nut problem during the mid-stages of the race but fought his way back to the front of the field.
Busch overcame a one-lap deficit and received drafting help from Juan Pablo Montoya and former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon to win in April at Talladega.
It seems as though Busch has had all the breaks go his way so far this season, but will it continue for the 23-year-old driver. It didn't for Jeff Gordon during the second half of the 1997 season after winning seven of the first 15 races that year.
Even though Gordon captured his second Cup title in '97, it was one that almost got away from the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver. Gordon scored just three victories in the final 17 races that year. He ended the season just 14 points ahead of second-place Dale Jarrett and 29 markers in front of third-place Mark Martin, making it the closest three-way points battle in the sport at the time.
The following year, however, would be Gordon's most dominating season.
Gordon recorded four victories by the mid-point of the 1998 season, but then everything went Gordon's way as he won nine of the final 16 races en route to his third Cup championship. Gordon tied Petty's '75 record, and since then no one's come close to it.
Petty won 13 of 30 races and clinched his sixth of seven Cup titles in '75. The "King" also holds the NASCAR all-time record for most victories in a season with 27, set in 1967. NASCAR ran 49 races that year.
In the early 1970's, NASCAR and then series-title sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company with its Winston brand made major changes to the sport by trimming the season schedule to 31 races and creating a new points system. It became known as NASCAR's modern era.
Petty, who made his Cup debut at the Columbia Speedway in Columbia, SC on July 12th, 1958, recorded 200 wins in 1,185 starts, both unreachable records in NASCAR. His all-time records for most Cup poles with 126 and most Cup wins from the pole with 61 are also out of reach for the time being. Petty made his final NASCAR start in November 1992 at Atlanta.
Busch is hoping for a dominating season, much like Petty had in '75 and Gordon in '98. But Petty and Gordon didn't have to deal with the championship "Chase" format those years. NASCAR established the "Chase" in 2004 to determine the Cup champion. Under the current format, after the first 26 races, the top-12 drivers are eligible to compete for the title in the final 10 races of the season.
With seven races to go, Busch will certainly make this year's "Chase." Busch will contend with 11 other drivers for the championship in the final 10-race stretch, and that means the competition on the track will get much more intense, starting in September at New Hampshire.
And don't be surprised if possible contenders like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Gordon and Johnson are saving their best for last. Johnson won four of the final five races last year for his second straight title. He also won four of the last six races in 2004, but finished only eight points behind Busch's older brother, Kurt, for the title. It was the closest points finish in Cup history.
For Busch to have a shot at the record, he'll have to continue on his Tony Stewart-like summer hot winning streak, because when it becomes "Chase" time, it's going to be much more difficult for him to win.