Martin Truex Jr.'s fourth-place finish Saturday at Darlington Raceway gave Dale Earnhardt Jr. the first of two series championships he covets this year.
With the help of a bad day by Busch Series runner-up Kyle Busch, Truex wrapped up the title with one more race remaining in the 2004 season, giving Chance 2 Motorsports, co-owned by Earnhardt and his stepmother, Teresa, their first championship.
Truex is the first driver to win a Busch championship in his first full season since Earnhardt got the first of his two consecutive titles in 1998. The new champion has been the top driver in the series most of the year, leading the series in wins (6), poles (7), top fives (17) and top 10s (25).
Asked if he believed he could win the title in his first full year in the series, Truex turned to Earnhardt Jr. and said, "No, but he did. He told me back in the winter I could win this thing hands down and I told him he was crazy.
Earnhardt, who is third in the closest five-man championship battle in Cup history going into Sunday's Southern 500 here, was particularly happy to see Truex wrap up his title in a car with a sponsor, Wrangler, and the blue and yellow color scheme made famous by his late father.
"I told Martin it would be something special to me if he won (the championship) in this race," Junior said. "He wears that uniform with pride and understands the whole situation. It's just a little added bonus to the whole deal."
Truex came into the penultimate race of the season leading fellow rookie Busch by 160 points and needed only to add 30 points to his lead to wrap up the championship. Busch, trying hard to stay in the title chase, damaged his car in a collision with Ron Hornaday Jr. and Greg Biffle early in the race.
He came back from that to led 12 laps, but lost control and crashed again on lap 100, finishing 33rd and winding up 257 points behind the new champion
Ashton Lewis Jr., whose family team will fold after the finale next Saturday in Homestead, finished second, matching his career-best. He was followed by Mike Bliss, Truex, Matt Kenseth and Casey Mears.