Hamilton wins Busch 200 for first NASCAR victory

Saturday, May 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) _ After 95 winless starts in the NASCAR Busch series, Bobby Hamilton Jr. found the winning groove.

Powering through the pack in the final 60 laps, Hamilton won the Busch 200 at the New Hampshire International Speedway on Saturday for his first victory.

Hamilton, whose Ford is sponsored by the Marine Corps, jumped out of his car and waived the Marine flag before doing a quick spin at the finish line.

Todd Bodine, who started third and was in contention most of the way, finished second. Jack Sprague was third, and rookie polesitter Shane Hmiel was fourth, his best finish.

Hamilton appeared to have his first victory in last week's Hardee's 250 at Richmond, Va.. But, leading with 11 laps left, he ran out of gas and finished 25th.

``Last week wasn't our week; today was our day,'' he said.

This time, Hamilton, whose previous best finish was third last month at Nashville, came from behind to win.

Hamilton was leading when he went in for a pit stop, but he had to return to the pit moments later to have a track bar adjusted. He came out for the 140th lap in 15th place.

Using the new 12-foot groove on the turns that was put in for this race to create more passing opportunities, Hamilton began his push through the field.

By the 153rd lap, he was 11th. Three laps later he was ninth. By the 163rd lap, he moved up to seventh.

``Before I knew it, I was fifth and there was the leader,'' he said.

He passed Bodine on turn 3 of the 186th lap, and passed Hmiel at nearly the same spot one lap later.

Hamilton cruised home, winning by 2.4 seconds. His average speed over the 1.058-mile track was 110.340 mph.

``We just had a great car and when you get one like that, you can go like that,'' he said.

He also credited the new groove that some drivers believed would not make a difference.

``I was able to pass a lot of people down there,'' he said. ``Last year, I couldn't do what we did today.''

Hamilton was the 16th different winner in 16 Busch races at the speedway.

Hamilton, who started next to Hmiel on the front row, passed Hmiel on the 12th lap to take his first lead. He wound up leading for 83 laps, while Hmiel led for 61 and Bodine 48.

Defending champion Jason Keller, who started the race as the series leader, and Winston Cup driver Jeff Burton were out of the race early.

Burton, looking for his third Busch victory of the season, had engine problems and was gone after five laps.

Keller sustained front-end damage after getting hit from behind and pushed into another car during a restart on the 20th lap. After going to the garage area, he returned, but dropped out after 72 laps.

Sprague took the points lead with 1,613, while Keller fell to second with 1,549.