Johnson beats two of a kind in Vegas race

Kyle Busch finishes ahead of brother Kurt for 2nd

Auto Racing

March 14, 2005|By Shav Glick | Shav Glick,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LAS VEGAS - During the years Kurt Busch was working his way toward the Nextel Cup driving championship, the folks around southern Nevada kept warning, "If you think Kurt is good, just wait until you see his kid brother."

The NASCAR nation saw him yesterday, when 19-year-old Kyle Busch, less than two years out of nearby Durango High, put on a remarkable display of teenage talent in front of a hometown crowd of 150,000 in the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Busch didn't win - he finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson, both driving Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets - but it was the gangly youngster who was the center of attention. And he beat his brother, the series champion, who finished third.

One media wag noted that "Johnson beat the Buschs."

"I'm proud of him. He did a great job," Kurt Busch said. "I'm beside myself really because I didn't expect this from him so early."

It was only the ninth Nextel Cup race for Kyle Busch, who came within 1.67 seconds of being the youngest winner in Cup history. Donald Thomas, a winner in 1952 when he was 20, is the youngest.

Some critics in NASCAR, including some drivers, have complained that youngsters are being brought along too fast, that they should spend more time earning their way into top rides.

"I've heard that, but Darrell Waltrip stood up for me today, and he told everybody that sometimes you have to get thrown in with the big dogs, early as it is or late as it is, it doesn't really matter," Kyle Busch said. "You're going to have to learn and you are going to go through these learning curves and today was definitely one of those."

The younger Busch moved up to NASCAR's highest series a year ago after finishing second in the Busch series and winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 2001, his junior year in high school, he raced a Ford for Jack Roush in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series.

"I hope this wasn't just a fluke, but qualifying on the pole two weeks ago in California and finishing second here is just an awesome thing for the whole team," Kyle said. "I'm just excited to be here with such a great organization as Hendrick Motorsports."

In the downtown sports books, Kyle was listed at 60-1.

"I had a bunch of guys that put money on me so I was wishing the No. 48 car [Johnson] would have pulled over and let us win," he said. "I bet you all of the sports books would have gone broke. I bet next year I'll have a lot lower odds."

Johnson's win broke the spell that Roush Fords have had at Las Vegas, where his cars won five of the previous seven races on the tri-oval.

Both Johnson's and Kyle Busch's cars failed to pass the post-race inspection. Johnson's No. 48 had too low a roof line and Busch's No. 5 had a rear quarter-panel that was too high. NASCAR officials wouldn't comment, but it is expected that fines will be announced for crew chiefs tomorrow. No change in the results is likely.

For most of the race, it was going just the way NASCAR would like, a Chevrolet (Johnson), a Dodge (Ryan Newman) and two Fords (Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle) swapping the lead between yellow caution-flag periods. There were 10 caution flags, placed so strategically that not once in 267 laps, a period of 3 hours, 18 minutes, was there a pit stop made by leaders during green-flag racing situations.

Biffle led 52 laps, Newman 44, Busch 40 and Johnson 107, including the final 55.

"I think we were struggling at the beginning, but we were able to make the proper adjustments and get up there," said Johnson, who collected a $30,000 bonus for taking the Nextel Cup points lead by winning the race. "It was awesome how good the car was running. Once I think I passed six cars in one lap. At the end, I just did everything I could do to stay in front of [Kyle Busch], him being hungry and at his home track.

"I can have a little fun at the blackjack table tonight with that bonus money."

Kurt Busch probably had the best chance at upholding the Roush reputation until a bad pit stop on Lap 194. He pitted fourth, but had to come in for an extra stop because of faulty lug nuts and was 16th when racing resumed.

"Our car ran great - we just didn't have track position after that one bad stop," Kurt Busch said. "When I come home to Vegas, it feels like it's the Daytona 500. Congratulations to my little brother, and it officially stops now - the advice to Kyle - because he beat me fair and square.

"I wish one of us could have picked up the W for the hometown crowd, but there's a great group of people out there, probably 150,000 strong that saw a great race today."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's poster boy who is mired in 27th place in the Cup standings, might not agree. He and Brian Vickers, who tangled on the 11th lap, were the first cars back in the garage.

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