Green, wrecks underscore BGN race

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Jeff Green had his fellow drivers visually seeing red by winning the Channellock 250 Saturday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway. Wrecks had them seeing red emotionally.
   "Track position here was everything," said the driver of the red No. 21 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet about his first win at BMS. "We only pitted one time. It's a credit to what Goodyear does to give us good race tires. I've been running 11 years at Bristol and dreaming of getting in victory lane. They tore the dang victory lane up, so I christened this other one.
   "Bristol is a tough race track. I was so happy for our crew chief Butch Hylton. We've had problems our last three or four races on pit road, getting tires changed. That one stop we did do today was very fast. That's what it takes to win these races."
   It was Green's 15th of his Busch Series career. The 2000 series champ led a race-high 187 of the 250 laps.
   However, most fans were focused on post-race antics than the celebration in victory lane. Kevin Harvick, the defending Busch Series champion and winner of the last race here back in August, made BMS the first stop in a limited schedule.
   His return to the tour was met with the renewal of an old rivalry with Greg Biffle, that pre-dated the majority of last season.
   With ten laps to go, Biffle rammed the back of the No. 29 Chevy, sending it into the turn four wall. The wreck brought out a red flag condition, setting the stage for a post-race altercation.
   Sparks flew when Biffle brought his No. 60 Ford to pit road. As Biffle exited the car, Harvick grabbed him by the neck and started choking him. "He rammed me in the (rear) and pretty much ruined a brand new race car," said Harvick. "There is no way I'm leaving the track without letting him know how I feel about it. Greg Biffle is an idiot."
   Biffle offered his side, "He checked up out of the throttle. Kevin knows he came out of the throttle and got loose over there and I got in the back of him. It was not intentional by any means and I know there will be some fans pissed at me. It's just racing. That's going to happen. I was putting a lot of pressure on him and he got loose up off the corner.
   "I got all I could take for fighting before. I got fined and had points taken away. I'm running for a championship and just want to do the right thing. Kevin is upset and he has a right to be. We've all been in that situation and I feel bad for getting him turned around. I didn't do it on purpose, certainly."
   Race winner Green weighed in, "I know Kevin is a hard-charger and Greg is right there with him. When two hard heads meet, something has got to happen. They're young and exciting for the crowd. I just had to take care of what I do and let them take care of what they do."
   That wasn't the only altercation with post-race fireworks. Jimmy Spencer went on the track apron and hit the car of Jack Sprague on the final lap in an ill-fated attempt to win the race. After the cool down lap, Sprague jumped on the pit wall near Spencer's car and yelled his displeasure at the culprit of the accident.
   Spencer ended up fourth in the final rundown.
   "I don't care where I finished," said Spencer. "If I don't win, I don't give a damn."
   Green was glad to pull away from Spencer in the closing laps.
   "I knew Jimmy was going to do all that he could do to win the race," said Green. "I didn't dream we were that close to the end when the red flag came out. I was running up on a lot of lapped cars, so I think the red flag played to our advantage.
   "I was thinking on that back straightaway of what I could do to get away from him on that first corner. I ran in that first corner as hard as I could. That was on 100 lap old tires and I didn't know if the car would make it. I didn't know what went on behind me. I just knew no one ever passed me."
   If that wasn't enough, concern loomed over Jeff's brother Mark Green when his spinning No. 38 Ford was violently t-boned at the exit of turn two by Larry Foyt's car. Green was trapped in the race car for over 10 minutes, but was awake and alert at the scene of the accident.
   Once removed, Green was airlifted to the Bristol Wellmont Regional Medical Center. There, he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and a bruised foot.
   Back to the final results, McLaughlin brought his No. 18 MBNA Pontiac across the finish line in second, while Scott Wimmer tied a career-best third place finish in his No. 23 Food City Pontiac.
   "Our car was good on long runs," said McLaughlin, who led 49 laps of the event. "I think everybody had pitted after we stayed out. I thought we could be competitive if we could survive starting in the back. That was a big help pitting late. (Crew chief) Tim Shutt did a great job making that call.
   "I didn't see nothing but smoke on that last lap. Basically, we had a fourth place finish coming up. I have to give my spotter Curtis Markham credit. When that incident happened, he yelled to go high. I kept digging as it was the last lap and was able to pick up a few positions."
   Said Wimmer: "We started out 17th and were running real well and worked our way up. I got some real good adjustments on the car. Tires really helped me a whole lot. The car didn't slow down. We pitted about halfway through and put on our last four (tires) and ran to the end from there. I'm happy for us with a third-place finish. A finish like this should open the eyes for some sponsors."
   A great day for the Team Bristol No. 54 driven by Kevin Grubb looked to be in the cards. He suffered a setback on lap 205, when he spun coming off turn two while running second. However, Grubb recovered to post a 12th place finish.
   The race tied a BMS record with 14 cautions and set a new record for 88 yellow flag laps that slowed the average speed to 66.093 mph. The first caution flew on lap 7 after Lyndon Amick spun between turns one and two after contact from Jamie McMurray. Eliminated from contention in the wreck was Kevin Lepage, who won the night 1998 Busch race while driving the No. 40 Channellock car.
   On lap 21, several other contenders were wrecked, starting with 1999 race winner Jason Keller tapping the back end of the Ken Alexander's car. 1993 BMS winner Michael Waltrip was also collected in the six-car melee. The wreck was particularly costly to Keller, who entered the weekend as the Busch Series points leader.
   While Harvick may have labeled him an idiot, Biffle officially took over the points lead with Keller's misfortunes. After five races, Biffle has a seven-point lead over Green with third place Kenny Wallace 32 points behind, fourth place Sprague 50 markers back and Keller now in fifth 67 points in arrears.
   With Green not running the full series schedule, his concern was not losing the race in the final lap melees. "I'm committed to the AOL Chevy and winning the Winston Cup championship in the future," said Green. "I'm trying to help the 21 team get better. Jay Sauter will take over this car at Nashville. I've won a championship and championship's are great, but my head is in Winston Cup.
   "I wasn't about to slow down on the last lap. Ten years ago, I was leading an All-Pro race here. The white flag came out and I didn't race back (to the finish line). So, I wasn't letting off for nothing. I was running through one and two and could see a hole where I could get through there. I just put it on the mat. I didn't even look to see where Jimmy was. I just concentrated on what I needed to do.
   "The fans want to see good, close racing. Over one hundred thousand fans showed up. This is what they're here for. This excitement here builds our sport and makes our sport better."