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Head2Head: Is anyone else up to the challenge of 85 wins?

September 07, 2011, ,

Jeff Gordon became the third winningest driver in Cup Series history when he beat Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday for his 85th career victory, forging ahead of Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Only one other driver in the top 10 is still active -- Johnson, with 54.

Three other active drivers are in the top 20, but two of them, Bill Elliott and Mark Martin, and in the twilight of their careers; Elliott, 15th on the list with 44 wins, only makes a handful of starts. Tony Stewart is tied with Tim Flock for 17th on the list with 39 victories. No other active driver has more than 23 -- both Busch brothers.

Will anyone ever again reach 85 career victories in the Cup Series?


It can be done, and the two drivers most likely to do it already are among us.

At age 26, Kyle Busch has not yet completed his seventh full Cup season and has a total of 23 victories in the series.

But you have to look at what he has done since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 to truly glean Busch's enormous potential. In the three-plus seasons since, he has registered 19 of his Cup victories -- or nearly five wins per season.

Busch has such a passion for racing that he's likely to continue racing well past age 40, which makes 85 career Cup wins not only a distinct possibility but also a likelihood.

Along the way, he's likely to have at least a couple more seasons when he wins closer to the eight races he captured in 2008 rather than the three he won in 2010 -- especially if he eventually ceases to run so much in other series and concentrates solely on Cup.

The other current driver with a shot at 85 career wins is five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson already has 54 career wins, averaging 7.5 wins in the four previous seasons leading into this one.

Johnson got a later start in his career than either Gordon or Busch, and that may eventually work against him -- but if he can win once more this season and then average five wins a year through age 42, he will get there as well.

Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Jeff Gordon's 85 Cup Series victories is so impressive, I'm going to be honest and tell you right now -- you won't see anyone else reach that mark. Ever. How interesting that we knew Richard Petty's 200 victories was untouchable, who knew that less than half that would be as well? But the truth is, the stars aligned for Gordon's run to 85, and in this day and age, it just won't happen again.

The competition is too tough now, parity is at an all-time high, and drivers just can't sustain the high level of dominance it takes to get to 85.

There are two current Cup drivers who have the best chance: Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. Johnson is just 31 away and Busch is 62 from the mark, and the latter has youth on his side. But the bottom line is this: It's taken Gordon 20 years and 685 races to get to 85, and the past four victories have spanned four seasons. Slow downs are inevitable, and Johnson and Busch will have them.

Everyone else currently in the Cup Series already is too far off the pace to catch Gordon.

There is one driver I'm keeping my eye on. Austin Dillon is just a baby at 21, and already has proven he can win consistently on the national level. But let's remember, Gordon was racing full time in Cup at the age of 20, so Dillon is already behind.

Cherish what you witnessed at Atlanta on Tuesday, because you won't see it again in this lifetime.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

All of which begs the question: Will anyone ever again reach 85 career victories in NASCAR's top national touring series? Joe Menzer and Bill Kimm have their thoughts, and they don't agree. Read what they have to say and weigh in with yours in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in the poll at the right.