Busch Looks to Rebound At Bristol

Friday, August 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) _ Bristol Motor Speedway is the last place Kurt Busch expected to win his first race. But with some bumping and banging, he got it.

Busch earned his only Winston Cup victory here in March when he knocked Jimmy Spencer out of his way to win the Food City 500.

``If you had asked me where I would win my first race, I wouldn't have said Bristol,'' Busch said. ``The racing is just so difficult and the track is so tight. But we got good track position, put a move on a veteran and won the race.''

Now he's back at Bristol for the Sharpie 500 on Saturday night, a race funded by his sponsor, and trying to snap his streak of three poor finishes that dropped him from fifth to 12th in the standings.

But many are still talking about his Food City win, which attracted plenty of attention and was the first of many scrapes that have cost Busch money and time in NASCAR's truck.

His outspokenness and aggressive behavior are proving that the 24-year-old Busch won't be pushed around by anyone as he tries to make the No. 97 Ford a weekly contender.

``I think that 99 percent of the field respects the way I drive,'' Busch said. ``But that's not necessarily a concern of mine.''

He was assertive in the season-opening Daytona 500, prompting Jeff Gordon to complain in a nationally televised gripe over his radio: ``That 97 is a wild man!'' Busch reinforced that thinking a month later, when he spun out Spencer a month later at Bristol.

Afterward, Busch said Spencer had it coming for some bumping that happened between them in 2001.

At The Winston in May, Busch admitted he intentionally caused the final caution so the field could catch up with the leaders, who had been pulling away in the annual all-star race. His honesty drew a $10,000 fine from NASCAR officials, who wouldn't even have known about his intentions if he hadn't acknowledged it.

Busch thinks his only mistake was not properly explaining his actions.

More trouble came in July at Daytona, when NASCAR officials called him into the pits for a one-lap penalty. His reaction was to curse them over his radio, so the sanctioning body added another three laps to his punishment.

Then came the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis earlier this month, when he and Spencer tangled for a third time. After Spencer's car hit Busch and caused him to wreck, Busch waited for Spencer to come by and made a flurry of gestures at him.

The drivers and their car owners were called to the NASCAR hauler the next week to hash out their differences, which Busch says are over. But he's still a little miffed over the whole thing.

``What happened at Bristol between us was just bumping and rubbing a little bit, with a victory on the line,'' Busch said. ``But what he did to us in Indianapolis was appalling.

``He marred a car _ we'll never be able to drive it again _ and took us out of position to finish a race that pays an awful lot of money. But it's over, in my mind. I don't feel it's necessary to retaliate against Jimmy Spencer.''

Should he change his mind, Bristol might be the place to do it.

The tight confines of the .533-mile bullring make bumping and banging impossible to avoid for the entire 500 laps. Few would probably even notice if Busch gave Spencer a tap or two.

But Busch is trying to focus on the bigger picture. For now, that is to finish out the year focusing on wins and figuring out where he fits in the sport.

``I'd like to finish in the top eight in the points, especially coming from 27th last year,'' he said. ``I'd like to see a couple of wins come our way, and some poles, too. But I'd also like to mend all the different bumps and bruises we've had this past year.''