Spencer powers to Food City triumph

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL -- Most of Friday night's Food City 250 NASCAR Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Jimmy Spencer was simply trucking along.
   Spencer dominated the event on the .533-mile track and looked to have things in order racing to a 1/4 lap lead over Scott Wimmer with only two laps to go. However, the lapped car of Tim Sauter spun out directly in front of Spencer coming off turn two. Despite Wimmer closing to Spencer's back bumper, he was unable to make the move to the front.
   "The car had a ton of forward grip," remarked Spencer. "It was really good getting into the corner. If you had to go high around somebody, you could get off the brake and just let the car roll through there and it kept its grip. That's the key.
   "Scott did a great job. I knew if I pushed the issue on the lapped cars, they would make a mistake. So I tried not to push the issue and let them go. Something happened where the No. 19 (Sauter) and the No. 27 got together. Scott got to me, but he's a true competitor. As good as our car was, that was the closest call I had tonight."
   It looked like Spencer had a Kenworth big diesel running pulling his No. 1 Yellow Freight Lines Chevy throughout the event. Spencer, previously the 1997 winner of this event, made a mad dash over the opening laps moving up from 10th to first over the first 108 circuits. He lost the lead to Kevin Harvick during pit stops on lap 150 falling to third. However, Spencer came back just 10 laps later, passing both Wimmer and Harvick to regain the top spot.
   "I love this race track," said a jubliant victor about the high-banked speedway. "This is a special place. There's just something about Bristol that I like. I probably would race for a hot dog here."
   Overall, Spencer led 132 laps in recording his 12th career Busch Series victory. It was his first win since last September at Richmond for the Berwick, Pa. driver running a limited Busch schedule.
   Wimmer did manage to close to the back of Spencer at the 200-lap mark with third place Biffle in tow. However, Spencer did a masterful job working traffic, pulling out to the big lead.
   At the end of the race, Wimmer opted for the clean runner-up finish instead of bumping past Spencer. "We just came up a little bit short," said the driver of the No. 23 Pontiac, who is still searching for a first series win. "He checked up down the backstretch and I gave him one shot. I was close enough to tap him. I stomped on the gas real quick and it started pushing.
   "I wanted to see if I could get under him, but Jimmy was just too strong off the corners. He had a real good car all night and deserved to win the race. I don't like winning races that way. We needed a win badly, but this was a good run."
   Added Spencer, "Kevin Harvick and Scott Wimmer raced me clean and I did all back the same. They had good cars, but not as good as the Yellow car. I tip Scott's hat that he didn't bump me. I will do the same back to him sometime."
   Third place went to Busch Series points leader Greg Biffle in his No. 60 Ford. Mike McLaughlin was in fourth and spring race winner Jeff Green rounded out the top five. Kenny Wallace, a winner in Wednesday's All-Pro race at BMS, finished sixth. Michael Waltrip, the winner of the most recent Busch race at Michigan, came home seventh to fill out the scoreboard positions.
   Harvick also flexed his muscles in the first half of the race. He powered from a fourth starting spot to second on lap one with a move to the outside. He then bided his time until lap 67, when he passed polesitter Jason Keller for the lead.
   Lap 166 gave hopes to fans anticipating pre-race fireworks as between Biffle and Harvick. The two, who had a highly publicized confrontation in the spring, raced without a hitch as Biffle easily passed Harvick going into turn three. Harvick's night ended on lap 209, when he hit the kill switch turning off the car.
   Johnson City's Brad Teague gave local fans someone to cheer for early on. Teague started the race in the 39th position, but moved up quickly due to the accidents ahead of him. He remained on the lead lap until lap 77, when Harvick motored by his No. 77 Taco Bell Ford. Teague finished the race in 25th place, 12 laps down after experiencing handling problems.
   The race was slowed by six cautions, including an eight-car pileup on lap 34 that eliminated several big name contenders. Former BMS winner Steve Grissom, Mike Wallace, Kerry Earnhardt, Jack Sprague, and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. were among those involved.
   Nine laps later, twelve more cars received damage in a huge crash exiting turn one. The racing was calm afterwards with the entire second half of the event running caution-free.
   Mike Harmon, who miraculously survived a car-demolishing practice crash on Thursday, was the first car out of the event in a more subdued manner. Harmon withdrew by simply parking the car with handling problems after just 2 laps.
   It was a good points night for Busch Series leader Biffle, who padded his lead in the standings over ninth place runner Keller. Biffle came into Bristol with a 60-point lead and left the race with a 78-point advantage over his closest rival as the tour heads to historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway next weekend.
   "I saw Keller pit toward the end of the race," said Biffle. "I really was surprised to see him take tires. Obviously, there was something wrong with his car."
   Spencer's victory was in front of the largest crowd in history to see a NASCAR Busch Series event. An estimated crowd of 128,000 people were in attendance easily topping previous tour highs for races at Daytona and Texas.
   To put that in perspective, for a preliminary race to Saturday's main event at this local stadium less than 10 miles from Carter County, that's over 20,000 more fans than the record crowd for a single University of Tennessee football game and twice the number of people that attend most NFL games.