The Polish Victory Lap
While winning poles came easily for AK Racing, the team kept searching for enough speed to win races. As the 1988 season wound down, Kulwicki had earned six top fives and eight top tens over the course of the year but was still seeking his first win.
On November 6, the Winston Cup Series made its inaugural visit to Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona. Kulwicki started mid-pack and had to make several unscheduled pit stops early in the race, but he was able to stay on the lead lap. The last 136 laps of the 312-lap event were run without a caution, which gave him an opportunity to chase down the leaders over the long green flag run. With 16 laps to go, leader Ricky Rudd experienced an engine failure, allowing Kulwicki to take the top spot and drive off to his first Winston Cup victory.
Before heading to victory lane, Kulwicki treated the fans to a unique celebration. He made a “backward” lap around the racetrack, driving clockwise instead of the usual counterclockwise. Kulwicki explained that he wanted to be closer to the fans as he made a victory lap and hoped to do something different to celebrate his first win.
Kulwicki and his team had planned to do the backward lap whenever he won his first race, but he was still concerned that he would get in trouble with NASCAR. At the time, it was customary for race winners not to do anything other than drive straight to victory lane. But NASCAR did not punish Kulwicki, perhaps because his unusual celebration drew extra publicity for the race and the sport. Kulwicki explained later that "I really received nothing but positive comments on it. People still come up and talk about it months later. I did it in a safe manner and didn't go real fast. The people just loved it. This is a sport where we're very competitive but it's also entertainment for the fans and I think NASCAR didn't do anything about it because it was good for racing."
Kulwicki later referred to the clockwise lap as a “Polish Victory Lap” in honor of his heritage. The Polish Victory Lap would become Kulwicki’s signature celebration.