Put simply, Keselowski and Busch crushed the NNS competition in 2010 in a way that hadn’t been seen in decades. To wit:
• Keselowski won his first series driving championship by the astonishing margin of 445 points, nearly three full races. He clinched the championship with two races to go, an unheard of accomplishment.
• Busch helped Joe Gibbs Racing win its third consecutive NNS owners’ championship.
• Keselowski put his No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge Charger in victory lane six times, and scored 26 top-five and 29 top-10 finishes in 35 races.
• Busch set an NNS record with 13 race victories in just 29 starts.
• Keselowski completed 6,488 laps run out of a possible 6,489 on the NNS season.
• Busch led 34.55 percent of all the laps run, putting the No. 18 JGR Toyota out front for 2,229 laps.
While it’s rare for one driver to dominate a series, it’s almost impossible these days for two drivers to be that far ahead of the rest of the pack. But that’s exactly what happened in 2010, with Keselowski and Busch each displaying greatness, both men setting standards that will be exceedingly difficult to equal, let alone surpass.
For Keselowski, it was his first NASCAR championship in any series and, believe it or not, the first for team owner Roger Penske, who ran his first NASCAR event in 1972.
“It's pretty amazing, you know, to come from just a few years back not having a job in this sport and really thinking I was going to have to get a real job, to being out here and winning the championship and kind of establishing yourself,” said Keselowski.
“Hopefully, we can carry this success over to the Cup side. But as of now we're going to soak this up and celebrate what we've done this year and (be) very proud of it.”
Keselowski’s accomplishment, while achieved with a veteran organization, was reached with a first-year team that Penske had put together prior to the start of the season.
“All my guys have worked so hard this year,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe. “You know, starting up a new team, I don't think we had — I don't think we had any guys on the team going into December (2009). And to be able to come out here in less than a year and win the first championship for Penske Racing just says a lot about all the guys that we put together on this team.”
The same can be said about the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 squad.
Busch piloted the familiar No. 18 Toyota in 29 races, with young Brad Coleman picking up the other six races. Jason Ratcliff performed admirably as crew chief on the championship car.
“It's a huge deal for us,” team President J.D. Gibbs said of the organization’s third consecutive NNS owners’ title. “You kind of look back, and we started it in the first year with Bobby Labonte. All we learned over the years was what not to do and what to do. Watching Kyle and Jason and those guys coming together, and Brad in there as well, it's just a blessing for us.”
As he did in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Busch ended the year with a victory in the final race of the season, winning the NNS Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That gave Busch 24 race victories in NASCAR’s top three divisions in a single season, a new record. Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker and Curtis Tuner didn’t win that many Sprint Cup races in their entire careers.
“We all probably a lot of us want to race cars or play football or something,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “But only a few guys are gifted enough to do it. And I think Kyle has that gift, and it's a thrilled and he has a passion for it also. It's a little thrill for us to be a part of it.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.