Monday, March 24, 2003

Busch rolls the dice and wins


Decides not to pit, and reaps reward

The Associated Press

BRISTOL, Tenn. - His tires were worn out, his gas tank was nearly empty and his crew chief wanted him to pit. Kurt Busch

overruled him and the gamble paid off for his long-awaited first victory of the year.

Busch, a runner-up three times this season, earned his first win of the year Sunday and defended his Food City 500 title by gambling on pit strategy and avoiding all but one of the 17 cautions at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I don't know what it is about me, I don't know what it is about Bristol," Busch said. "I love this place."

Busch got this one without any bumping, banging or late-race dramatics.

Coming off last week's thrilling door-to-door battle with Ricky Craven that he lost, Busch had little competition as his Ford Taurus led the final 96 laps and easily held off Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth by .390 seconds.

"(Busch) gets up on the wheel and drives the hell out of that race car, and he made a call today that won him the race," crew chief Jimmy Fenning said.

Because of 17 cautions - three short of the race record - the long green-flag runs were rare. When competition stayed clean long enough for 129 uninterrupted laps, cars had to start ducking off the track for pit stops.

Those who had enough fuel kept running, hoping and praying for a caution, while the drivers who had to stop fell a lap behind the leaders.

When Dale Jarrett finally hit the wall 109 laps from the finish, there were only five cars on the lead lap and all needed to pit. It was the break they needed, and Busch capitalized by bringing his car in for service then passing Bobby Labonte for the lead on the restart.

Labonte was third in a Chevrolet, Ricky Rudd finished fourth in a Ford, Roush Racing rookie Greg Biffle was fifth and Sterling Marlin scored his highest finish of the season by coming in sixth in a Dodge.

The ending lacked the drama of last year, when Busch scored his first career victory by knocking Jimmy Spencer out of his way.

This year, he stayed patient as he coasted around the .533-mile bullring - he spun out once midway through - and let the bumping and banging go on behind him.

"You watch all these wrecks and the cars as they go by and you keep praying you are on the right side when the smoke clears," Busch said.

Of the 17 cautions, only one was serious. Kyle Petty needed help getting out of his car after he hit the wall with 75 laps to go. Walking tenderly, he was placed on a stretcher and taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center for evaluation, was treated and released.

Kenseth's finish allowed him to retain his lead in the standings. He leads Busch by 138 points.




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Daugherty: Xavier realized too late it could win
Nicholas delivers in clutch
Xavier-Maryland Photo Gallery
UK: Wildcats run win streak to 25
One-on-one does not shut down center Estill
At Kentucky, the defense never rests
UK-Utah Photo Gallery
East: Butler breaks through, downs Louisville
Midwest: Pitt's defense sends Indiana home
South: MSU stomps No. 2-seed Florida
Four No. 1s advance
Big East has sweet record heading to round of 16
Family follows its sons
Men's NCAA Tournament at a glance
NIT at a glance

WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
Gauchos too deep for Musketeers
Shoemaker Regional: Arkansas 71, UC 57
The Shoe sticks it to top Hog
Shoemaker Regional: Texas 90, Hampton 46
Longhorns show off power
Ohio State crushes Weber State
Other games: UConn roars back into winning form
Women's NCAA Tournament at a glance

REDS / BASEBALL
Pitching staff takes shape
Larkin will get some work in the outfield
Reds players eager to see new digs
Indians 2, Reds 0
Day stakes claim to Expos starting spot

GOLF
Not rain, nor mud, nor sickness could stifle Tiger
Pak soars by Sorenstam

HOCKEY
Goalie Turco returns to align shining Stars
Cyclones clinch playoff berth

AUTO RACING
Busch rolls the dice and wins
Bumping causes grumbling
Kanaan posts 1st IRL win

HORSE RACING
New York Hero may be Derby-bound

PLAN YOUR DAY
Monday's sports on TV, radio