Boos join Busch in third win at Bristol

Young winner, cautions both hold off Wallace to dismay of loud crowd

Auto Racing

March 29, 2004|By George Diaz | George Diaz,ORLANDO SENTINEL

BRISTOL, Tenn. - His victory lap was serenaded by a chorus of boos and beer cans being tossed from the grandstands.

Just a hunch, perhaps, that Kurt Busch isn't a guy folks have embraced into their NASCAR family of folksy veterans and spunky young guns.

Still, the guy who doesn't fit the typical Nextel NASCAR profile was the only driver smiling at day's end after bringing his Roush Racing Ford to victory yesterday during an anticlimactic two-lap shootout at the Food City 500.

Busch, 25, continued the young man's dominance of this sport in the early season by holding off veteran Rusty Wallace to win his third consecutive race here and fourth in five tries before a rambunctious crowd of 160,000.

Busch short-circuited the feel-good story line that Wallace was weaving in and out of traffic during the day. Wallace was trying to shake a winless streak of 103 races, and would have had a better shot if not for a caution on Lap 492, when Dale Jarrett got loose and nicked rookie Scott Wimmer.

NASCAR officials red-flagged the race - all cars were parked along pit road - with the caution running through Lap 498. The race restarted with a single-file two-lap sprint. Busch won by five car lengths. Kevin Harvick was third, followed by Sterling Marlin and Matt Kenseth.

"We didn't need those last cautions," Wallace said. "I was all over his rear end. Man, I wanted that bad. So close."

Busch turned any expectations of wild shenanigans - the famed Bristol Bump and Run included - into a blur of cars in his rear view mirror. Nobody got close enough to spin him out of the way, and that allowed him to cash in a cozy $173,465 for a day's work, including leading 118 of the 500 laps.

"This one by far has got to be the sweetest because of what we had to overcome," Busch said of his victories here. "Our engine had about 1,000 RPM less all day today ... and I just couldn't get the car to handle right. It's just unreal."

Busch also parlayed a technical gamble to his favor when he decided not to make a tire change when the other leaders came to pit road under caution 119 laps from the finish. The anger on the face of crew chief Jimmy Fennig reflected that the decision was not a popular one.

"We only had 20 laps on our tires," Busch said. "I looked in the mirror and some guys didn't pit behind us, so I just ... stayed out."

Fennig said: "I felt we needed tires, but I'll tell you one thing, I probably have the best guy in the business when it comes to tire management."

Effective it was, given the number of cautions - three in the final 35 laps - that cut down on tire wear.

"You've got to let her rip," said the kid who immigrated to NASCAR country from Las Vegas and now has nine Cup victories in 120 starts. He also joins retired drivers Darrell Waltrip (seven), Cale Yarborough (four) and Fred Lorenzen (three) with at least three consecutive victories at Bristol.

The reverence remains for the older heroes here at Bristol, though Busch is still dismissed as an interloper from parts unknown in NASCAR country. His relationship with fans began to unravel here last summer after a contentious altercation with Jimmy Spencer at Michigan International Speedway the week before.

Short-tempered and angry, Busch certainly wasn't the happy face NASCAR wanted to see on its publicity machine. Officials probably squirmed a bit when they saw him at Victory Lane again last season, with the soundtrack of boos accompanying him to the stand.

Despite a mea culpa news conference here Saturday - "I probably reacted to all of that 99 percent wrongly" - the message has yet to reach NASCAR's mainstream fans.

"The secret [to winning] is that he's got 160,000 people that boo at him when he wins," Harvick said. "He may be winning races, but the fans hate him."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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