By Keith Waltz
NASCAR stock car racing entered a new era on Sept. 19, 2004, when New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted the inaugural race in what is now known as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Introduced in January 2004, the Chase concept was a revolutionary new method for determining the champion of NASCAR’s premier series.
Previously, the title winner was determined by points over the course of the entire season. In this new playoff-style format, the top-10 drivers in points after the first 26 races earned a berth in the Chase. Their points were adjusted and those 10 drivers then battled for the championship during the final 10 races.
Kurt Busch, driving the Irwin Industrial Tools/Sharpie Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, established himself as the man to beat as the Las Vegas, Nev., native dominated the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading 155 of the 300 laps. Busch’s victory in the Chase opener was his second consecutive triumph at the New England oval.
Busch was 2.488 seconds ahead of teammate Matt Kenseth at the checkered flag as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five.
Capitalizing on the momentum generated by his New Hampshire victory, Busch went on to claim the championship trophy, holding off Jimmie Johnson who won four times during the chase but came up eight points short.