Rookie crash clears way to victory for Waltrip

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   GLADEVILLE -- Even Hollywood couldn't dream up a finish this wild. As the first four cars crashed in front of him and the fifth place car slowed, Michael Waltrip came from sixth place to the lead on the next to last lap to win the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday.
   "On the next to last lap, I'll be darned if they didn't crash," said Waltrip about his improbable 11th career Busch Series win. "I knew the only chance I had was if I went up next to the wall and they wrecked. I came out the other end and when I didn't see anyone in front of me, that worked out like it was supposed to."
   Rookies Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch were staging a furious battle for the lead with Busch getting by Bowyer with three laps to go. Bowyer passed Busch back as they came to the finish line.
   Busch muscled back ahead entering turn one. They made slight contact exiting turn two. Their spinning cars were plowed into from behind by third and fourth place drivers Johnny Benson and Robby Gordon.
   When fifth place Johnny Sauter slowed approaching the accident, Waltrip in the No. 99 Aaron's Chevrolet scooted by on the outside to take the win.
   "My sneaking suspension was they would hit each other and I could get by two or three of them," said Waltrip, who came back from an earlier race incident with Ron Hornaday. "I watched those guys running into each other.
   Those cats were racing hard to get their first win. They just piled up the first five cars.
   "I've told everyone about my Christian faith with it being Easter weekend. The first thing I thought of when I saw the wreck was the Red Sea had just parted."
   Amid confusion about when the caution flag should have been displayed, second place finisher Sauter argued he should have won the event. "I'm still of the feeling that we won this race. I'm just going to bite my tongue because I don't need to get into any more trouble (with NASCAR)."
   Retorted Waltrip, "You are supposed to maintain a reasonable speed. Johnny wasn't up to a reasonable speed. It's OK for him to argue he should have won, but he doesn't know the rules."
   Bowyer, making only his second Busch Series start, had lead a race high four times for 104 laps, entering the final stretch. He had built up a three-second lead before a late race caution for debris from Gordon's blown tire bunched up the field.
   "We didn't need that caution at the end," said Bowyer. "The 5 car (Busch) got into me when he got around me. It was just hard racing. I wouldn't expect anything different from him or anyone. We were both racing hard and he got loose and I got into him. I didn't mean to cause any hard feelings. As far as I'm concerned it was just hard racing."
   Busch's version of the accident was, "We were racing hard. I got under and passed (Bowyer) clean in turn three and again in turn one. (Bowyer) had already hit me once, but I guess once wasn't enough so he hit me again.
   "We came home with a wrecked car that should have won the race, but that's all right. We will go to the next race."
   Gordon, who had a birds-eye view of the tangle, said, "It was a synchronized spin between four cars. I really don't know what happened. The Busch car got loose and then Benson clipped me and we all went spinning."
   It seemed unlikely to have a race with 19 lead changes and such an exciting finish in the beginning stages.
   Early leader Bobby Hamilton, Jr. rabbited out to a full straight-away lead by lap 25. Ten circuits later, he lapped pole winner Martin Truex, Jr. in the No. 8 Chevrolet. However by lap 55 he was chased down and passed by Kasey Kahne.
   Kahne stayed a top runner throughout, leading the race on six different occasions before ultimately ending up third after the late laps melee. As for Hamilton, he finished 27th after brushing the wall on lap 143.
   "I had a great race car but it started vibrating at the end," said Kahne, who celebrated his 24th birthday at the speedway. "I thought it was pretty funny to see Michael Waltrip drive by and win."
   The final countdown credited Bowyer with a fourth place finish, Gordon in fifth, Busch in sixth, Benson in seventh and Mike Bliss, who was not involved in the crash, finishing the last car on the lead lap in eighth.
   Jason Leffler came home ninth place with defending race winner David Green rounding out the top ten.
   For Waltrip, it was his first win since last August at Bristol. The 22nd place starting place was by the lowest ever for a Nashville winner. Sauter duplicated his best finish of the year at Daytona's season-opener, where he was also the runner-up.
   Waltrip, although not committed to running the full Busch Series schedule, now takes over the series lead by three points over Green. Busch is third in the standings with Gordon, another visitor from the Nextel Cup Series fourth and Truex in fifth. The next event on the 34-race Busch tour will be two weeks from now at Talladega, Alabama.
   NASHVILLE NOTES:
   * No danger of a less than 43 car field for Saturday's Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway. With the Nextel Cup Series having an off weekend and the racing world focused on Nashville, fifty-four cars attempted to make the race.
   * Johnson City driver Brad Teague was forced to park the locally-owned No. 53 Tennessee Mountain Boys Chevrolet after only four laps, finishing 42nd. The team found water mixed in with the oil inside the engine, leading to the early departure.
   * Open wheel star Blake Feese won Friday's PFG Lester 150 for the ARCA Series besting Busch Series driver Casey Atwood for the win. German driver Klaus Graf in his first stock car oval track race finished a surprising third. Multiple time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel was fourth and Nextel Cup driver Ken Schrader rounded out the top five.