Remember Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champ?

May, 1, 2009
RICHMOND, Va. -- The official NASCAR Sprint Cup stats say this is the first time Kurt Busch has led the point standings since the Las Vegas race on March 13, 2005.

There needs to be an asterisk by it.

Jimmie Johnson left Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the lead that day. He won the race to take a 15-point lead over Busch, who finished third.

Johnson led on the 14th, as well.

Then on the 15th, NASCAR docked Johnson 25 points and suspended crew chief Chad Knaus for two races because the car failed to meet the minimum height requirement in postrace inspection.

That vaulted Busch into the lead by 10.

Now for an even tougher trivia question: When was the last time the No. 2 Miller car was first in points without Busch behind the wheel? You have to dig much deeper for that answer, all the way back to May 2, 1998.

That's the day before the season's 10th race at California Speedway. Rusty Wallace had the lead over Jeremy Mayfield going in, but finished 34th with an engine problem to fall to fourth.

For a while, it looked as though the car never would make it back to the top. Busch finished 16th, seventh and 18th in his first three seasons with Penske Racing. He had only four wins after collecting 14 in his previous four seasons at Roush Fenway Racing.

The program was so far down last season that many forgot how good the 2004 champion was -- or is. Six top-10s in the first nine races, including a win, have been a good reminder.

"When I switched to Penske, I didn't understand how much rebuilding that we were going to be going through when they let over 120 people go during the season between '05 and '06," Busch said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "We won at Bristol right away, but after that, we definitely were on the quiet side of things.

"Then we switched to the COT, which I felt that we really shot ourselves in the foot. Roger [Penske] was gung ho for the car and thought it would help our program. I looked at it as it would only make us go backwards for a while until we figured it out."

They've figured it out. Busch has shown the consistency he used to win the first Chase. That has to make the folks at Chrysler, which filed for bankruptcy Thursday, smile.

Their poster boy has to make them smile, regardless. He's a walking billboard for the company, pushing the product better than a showroom salesman.

He has backed his words by purchasing three Chrysler products -- a Durango, Jeep Wrangler and Challenger -- in the past few months. "I'm doing what I can to help move some Dodge products and keep people on the assembly line," he said.

Busch has donated the SRT8 Challenger with a one-of-a-kind paint scheme for a lottery that will help raise money for his foundation to donate to the Victory Junction Gang Camp. He'll sell $100 tickets through the summer, with the winner selected Sept. 30.

He hopes to be leading the points then, as well.

The last time he was in this position, it lasted only a week.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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