Busch still untamed at BMS

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   BRISTOL -- Hail to Kurt Busch, the modern master of Bristol Motor Speedway.
   The driver of the No. 97 Sharpie Ford fended off the best challenges of nine-time BMS winner Rusty Wallace's No. 2 Miller Dodge to win his third straight Food City 500 at BMS on Sunday.
   "This one by far has to be the sweetest because of what we had to overcome," said Busch about his fourth win in the last five Bristol Nextel Cup Series races at the .533-mile track. "We weren't the fastest car, but we were able to get to victory lane and continue our streak.
   "Rusty ran into to us at the perfect point. He ran into me so hard that lifted the tires up off the ground. That enabled me to land back on the race track and him check up. As soon as he checked up, I was back on the gas full throttle."
   Leading the final 119 circuits, it was Busch's ninth career win and his first win on the tour since the last visit here in August. He and second-place finisher Wallace each ran the final 141 laps on the same set of tires.
   In the case of the winner, it occurred as he decided to stay on the track despite the objection of his crew chief Jimmy Fenning.
   Two late race cautions, including one for an accident involving former Bristol winner Dale Jarrett with six laps to go, set the end with a two-lap shootout. As he had done several times over the final circuits, Busch was able to keep the Wallace car behind him.
   "When you come to his house where he's won nine races and he's not won in so many races, they are going to throw the red flag and see if he can get by the 97 car," said Busch. "With the yellows coming out the opportune times for me and not for him enabled us to get to victory lane."
   For his part, Wallace was bitterly disappointed to see a winless streak in the Nextel Cup Series reach 104 races with a last win coming at California in 2001.
   "It's frustrating because I thought I had a faster car," said Wallace about his best finish of the season. "I did everything I could. I really felt I had a better shot if we hadn't those cautions at the end. It was a good drag race to the finish and I finished second.
   "I raced him pretty clean. I got into him in that one corner a little bit, but he was ready for it. I would have liked to give him a little bump and run. I went into turn one and the steering wheel locked up on me. I just couldn't get as aggressive with it as I wanted to."
   Wallace passed teammate and pole sitter Ryan Newman on lap 26 to take the lead for the first time. Twenty-five laps later, he had amassed a half-straightaway lead. On the day, Wallace led a race-high four times for a total of 100 laps.
   Coming in third place was Kevin Harvick, who charged through the field from tenth place after taking on fresh tires 65 laps from the finish.
   "It was just one of those deals where you just have to take what you can take," said Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet. "I grew up on high-banked half-mile race tracks where you have to use the same techniques that you use here.
   "I've finished second, third and fourth here. We always seem to end the race running really good here. It's a really good track for us and we look forward to coming back here in August."
   Mid-race leader Sterling Marlin drove the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge to a fourth place finish. Defending series champion Matt Kenseth came in fifth despite a late-race tussle with Jamie McMurray.
   McMurray fell to eighth after the two drivers tangled. He showed his anger after the race, but spinning out Kenseth's Ford as the cars approached pit road.
   "He hit me two or three times going into turn one," said McMurray. "He's not typically like that. I'm shocked that Matt acted that way. You can't really get out and punch somebody in our sport, so I just wanted him to know I was mad."
   McMurray had been a subject of controversy earlier in the race when he collected rookie Kasey Kahne as the two drivers contested second place.
   "It was just one of those deals," said McMurray. "You can't wreck someone on purpose with what we do. I didn't intentionally wreck him. I hate it happened."
   Sixth-place went to Ken Schrader, while Ryan Newman finished seventh.
   Four-time race winner Jeff Gordon made a critical error on a lap 366 pit stop that eliminated him from victory. Running in third coming into the pits, Gordon unnecessarily drove down the frontstretch pit lane under green flag conditions. After losing a lap due to the mistake, Gordon came back to finish ninth.
   Michael Waltrip rounded out the top ten with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who led 91 laps in the middle stage of the race, finishing 11th.
   There was a high attrition-rate on Sunday with seven cars already behind the pit wall in the first 105 laps.
   By lap 200, tempers were flaming when the cars of Tony Stewart and Scott Wimmer bumped during racing action. The fireworks continued under the caution with the drivers banging sheet metal. For their antics, both Stewart and Wimmer were penalized one lap by NASCAR.
   Wimmer recovered to place as the race's highest finishing rookie in 13th position, while Stewart posted a disappointing 24th place finish.
   With the win, Busch moved into second in the Nextel Cup point standings 21 points behind teammate and defending series champion Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt is now the third place driver 41 points in arrears to Kenseth with Stewart and Newman occupying the fourth and fifth place slots.
   "I'd just like to say that I'm renting out a room from Darrell Waltrip or Rusty Wallace at Bristol," said Busch. "We were able to survive today at Bristol. I now want to be looking for the proper thing, which is the 2004 Nextel Cup championship."
   The tour moves from the short track to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway next week, where the fastest speeds of last season were recorded.
   Busch joined elite company of Fred Lorenzen in the 1960's, Cale Yarborough in the 1970's and Darrell Waltrip in the 1980's as drivers to win three straight races at BMS dating back to his win in this event last season.