Monday, August 25, 2003

Busch's bad rep takes another rap

Controversy follows his Bristol victory

The Associated Press

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Kurt Busch hardly looked interested in celebrating. Not even another win at Bristol could lift his spirits.

Busch scored his fourth victory of the season Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, an accomplishment that should have sent him partying into the early morning hours. Instead, a move he used on Sterling Marlin en route to the win was piled onto a growing list of black marks that have made the 25-year-old Busch NASCAR's newest villain.

"It seems like that's the direction it's been taking," he said of his new role.

Busch was punched in the face by Jimmy Spencer last week as he sat inside his race car in Michigan. He got a bloody nose and a chipped tooth from the bopping, and unmeasurable damage to his reputation for his role in it. He didn't help matters when he arrived in Bristol with a defiant attitude, shrugging off the criticism from his fellow competitors and complaining over the way he'd been portrayed in the media.

As Saturday wore on, things only got worse.

In-car audio tapes from last week at Michigan turned up and revealed Busch egging on Spencer, perhaps provoking the punch.

Then there was contact with Marlin, a strong contender to win the race. But Marlin's night was ruined when Busch spun him out as he tried to pass him for second place. Busch spent a large portion of the postrace time apologizing.

Runner-up Kevin Harvick, meanwhile, was spending his time criticizing Busch.

"He's a cocky, arrogant, punk," Harvick said. "He just has a really, really bad attitude. But he can wheel a race car."

Responded Busch: "If he feels that way, that's fine. You just have to consider the source."

Then Busch vowed to change.

"You're going to see a less colorful Kurt on the radio," he said. "You're going to see a less colorful Kurt in the media center and anytime that I have any type of situation on the race track, unless I know outright that I am wrong."

The race had a NASCAR record-tying 20 cautions, but Matt Kenseth managed to roll to a fourth-place finish that widened his lead in the standings to 351 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Points race

1. Matt Kenseth 3,592
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,241
3. Kevin Harvick 3,128
Next race: Southern 500, Sunday, Darlington Raceway

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