Kurt Busch's busy week of celebration was capped Friday night with his acceptance of NASCAR's Nextel Cup championship trophy.
A day earlier, he walked out of a midtown hotel and into a crowd of people calling his name and asking for autographs. He was on the way to lead a
noisy, colorful procession of stock cars in a slow parade lap across Manhattan with hundreds of people lining the streets to take in the strange
sight. Later Thursday, he addressed champions of NASCAR's far-flung regional series, telling them they could be where he is someday -- if they are
both good and lucky. The 26-year-old Busch has worn a sort of stunned smile all week as he has been feted and praised for winning the Nextel Cup
championship in only his fourth full season in NASCAR's top series.
"On Tuesday, I couldn't believe everything that was happening -- the TV shows, the dinners, the fans," he said in a rare quiet moment during NASCAR's
champions week. "I didn't think it would ever end. Now, I don't want it to end. It's just been amazing."
The finale to the biggest week of his life came Friday night when Nextel, ending its first season as the series' title sponsor, presented Busch with a
check for $5.36 million from the 2004 points fund. That brought Busch's total earnings this year to $9,677,543.
"It's truly mind-boggling," he said. "The money is something you don't even think about as you're racing for a championship and trying to keep your
head above water and just do the best job you can for yourself, your team and the series."
Busch said he was particularly pleased to be able to share the head table at the awards ceremony with team owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jimmy
"It's been a fantastic year," Busch said. "We dodged a lot of bullets and I'm just so happy to be able to give Jack his second straight championship
and Jimmy his first one. I owe those guys so much.
"Jack took a chance on a driver who maybe had some raw ability but was unproven. We knew we had a championship team and championship equipment, and
Jimmy gave me so much of his experience to draw from to learn to be a championship driver."
Matt Kenseth gave Roush his first Cup title last season, his 16th on a car owner the circuit.
"Both Matt and Kurt have something in common," Roush said. "They are determined to win.
"It shouldn't surprise anybody that Kurt is a champion. It just took him a little while to learn how to get it done, and this won't be his last
championship in this decade."
Each of the drivers who made it into NASCAR's first-ever 10-man, 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship was honored Friday night. Also
recognized was 11th-place finisher Jamie McMurray. Each collected checks for at least $1 million. Nextel, which replaced longtime series sponsor
Winston this season, was given the NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award. It was accepted by Tim Donohue, president and CEO of the communications giant.
"NASCAR has called this a partnership and I totally agree," Donohue said. "It was a fantastic year and this partnership is going to keep growing and
getting stronger for a long time to come."
Busch, who at times has clashed on and off track with other drivers and has more often than not been booed by the fans, said he thoroughly enjoyed the
congratulations from his competitors and the warm smiles and cheers of fans throughout the week here.
"I'm going to do my best to be the kind of champion this year that everyone will be proud of," he said. "And, maybe if I do a good enough job, they'll
let me do it again next year. It's a lot of fun."