Busch scores breakout at BMS

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Kurt Busch bumped past Jimmy Spencer on lap 445 and led the final 56 circuits to become a first-time Winston Cup winner Sunday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   Spencer passed Busch one lap earlier before Busch tapped him coming off turn two. Spencer made a great save to the car to keep from hitting the wall, but after sliding his tires, he was never fast enough to catch up with Busch.
   Busch, a native of Las Vegas, won by a margin of 1.556 seconds after getting away from Spencer on a lap 488 restart.
   "He would have tried to rearrange the back bumper," responded the driver of the No. 97 Sharpie Ford when asked about what would have happened if Spencer had caught him. "It comes with the territory. I know what I did and I know what he was looking to do. We were just trying to fight for our track position and it all ended up in our favor.
   "You never expect the first win to come at Bristol. You started to feel it come to, but you just don't feel like it's going to be your day at Bristol. You never know what can happen here. We played pit strategy, the 8 car (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) pitted, we raced Jimmy Spencer and got our first win."
   Busch remembered an incident with Spencer last October.
   "He would think he got a raw deal today," said Busch. "We're both racing hard to win. Last year at Phoenix, he dumped us when he was a lapped car and we were running eighth. That kind of set the stage for it. We got underneath him and we are the ones in victory lane. If you're dicing for the win, that's just racing.
   "I did slip and he took advantage of it, but I wanted to race him. I didn't want to just lay over like a puppy and let him take it."
   Spencer had a different view of the incident.
   "Kurt smashed into the back bumper," said Spencer. "I don't know how I saved it. The good Lord helped me save it. When he smashed into the back of me, it really ruined my tires.
   "I just look at it as when you start racing for victories and top fives you better respect your competitors. We've got a big bulls-eye back there. I guess he couldn't see too good. One thing you can't do is beat and bang on people and knock 'em out of the way, especially racing for the lead."
   "If you get beat fair and square, I can handle that. That was a bad deal for the Team Target Dodge. I passed him fair and square and he just smashed right into my back bumper. I'm upset that it happened, but that's part of it."
   Ricky Rudd finished third, but did not appreciate blocking tactics by Spencer's teammate, Sterling Marlin, late in the race.
   "I would have preferred that he not be there," Rudd commented. "I felt like Jimmy was fading pretty hard. That two or three laps might've made a difference in us finishing second had I not had to race Sterling so hard. He raced us pretty hard, for sure."
   Tony Stewart dominated the middle stage of the race, leading from lap 212 until lap 284 pit stops when he turned the lead over to Earnhardt. Stewart, still suffering a back injury from a wreck one week before a Darlington, SC, spun out on lap 364. After the spin, Todd Bodine was called on as a relief driver for Stewart.
   "I got in and I don't know if the car was getting loose and that's why Tony spun out or not," said Bodine. "But, when I got in it was really, really loose. I fought it the whole time and about spun out a couple of times. If he can drive it like that, he is my hero."
   In the early stages, Spencer took the lead from Jeff Gordon on lap 32 before relinquishing the lead back to Gordon on lap 63. Pit stops turned the lead over to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 84. Jeff Burton scooted on by five laps later, before Gordon reassumed the lead on lap 109.
   Gordon narrowly avoided disaster seven laps later when Bobby Hamilton pushed the No. 02 of Hermie Sadler sideways. While Gordon was able to miss Sadler, Dale Jarrett wasn't as fortunate hitting the car as it rested in turn three.
   Spencer was not through running up front as he passed Gordon on lap 138. Gordon's luck ran out on lap 158 when he pinched his car down on the apron trying to pass Buckshot Jones and slammed the wall between turns one and two. Gordon ended the day in 31st position, continuing a career-longest streak of 14 finishes outside the top five.
   "It was unfortunate because I don't know if I ever have had that good of a car here," said Gordon. "It seems every time I have that good a car at Bristol something happens. Either I mess it up or get caught up in something. At least most of the time you can blame it on somebody else. Today, I'm the guy that is to blame."
   Earnhardt picked up bonus points for leading the most laps, in front for 181 circuits. He was out front from laps 345 to 410 until his team decided to pit for tires, handing the lead to Busch. In the closing laps, Earnhardt found difficulty getting through lapped traffic. He showed his displeasure by hitting the car of Robby Gordon on the cool-down lap.
   "The 31 (Gordon) wouldn't get out of the way," said Earnhardt. "He's a lap down with 18 laps to go and is racing the leaders. That's why it takes him three or four times to get into the Winston Cup Series. He doesn't pay attention and he doesn't know what he is doing."
   Gordon responded by spinning out Earnhardt on pit road.
   "I didn't understand why he hit me," he said. "He knocked me out of the way earlier in the race and cost me about 20 positions. I'm not going to let anyone spin me out. After the race, he comes in and runs in the side of me, so I hit him back."
   It wasn't the only time Gordon disagreed with one of his competitors. He started the race from the outside pole position and jumped out to a three car-length lead on the first lap. He was black flagged for the quick start, leading to claims of foul by polesitter Jeff Gordon.
   "Jeff Gordon snookered me at the start," said Robby. "That was unfortunate. He started and then he stopped. They gave me a stop and go (penalty). That's just the way it goes."
   Defending race champion Elliott Sadler saw his hopes for winning go up in smoke on lap 343 when he crashed after getting booted from behind by Kyle Petty. His No. 21 spewed oil all over the speedway and left Sadler 41st.
   The point standings jumbled after this race with points leader Marlin cutting a right rear tire on lap 310 and losing a lap in the process. Marlin, regained the lap, but ended the day with a 19th-place run, thus ending a streak of eight straight top ten finishes. While his lead of 99 points remained the same as before the race, the landscape behind him changed drastically.
   Rookie Ryan Newman, second in points entering Bristol, fell to seventh place after getting hit by Stewart on lap 209. Newman finished 37th as his No. 12 was severely damaged after making hard contact with the turn one wall.
   He also lost the lead in the Rookie of the Year standings with Jimmie Johnson, now ahead 84-82. Johnson scored a seventh-place finish on Sunday, leapfrogging up to fourth place in the overall driver standings.
   Second in the NASCAR standings now is Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth on Sunday. Nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace could only manage a ninth-place run in the Food City 500, but moved up to third in the points, 116 markers behind Marlin.
   For the 23 year-old Busch, Sunday, March 24 will be a day he never forgets.
   "There's nothing like the first one," said Busch, a former champion in the NASCAR Southwest Tour. "That's what you always dream about as a racer coming up through the ranks. Every driver dreams of winning at the Winston Cup level. This is what we all strive for, to be the best of the best.
   "I was the first caution here last spring on lap 70. I was in the back pits wrecking, because I didn't know the set-up to put underneath the car. Now that (crew chief) Jimmy Fenning has given me the guidance, we can go from a DNF to first place."