A Double-Duty Debut

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DOVER, Del. -- Talk about your skyrocketing careers.

In the span of less than three years, Kurt Busch has gone from the anonymity of the NASCAR Hobby Stock ranks in Las Vegas to the top of the NASCAR ladder –- the Winston Cup Series.

The 22-year-old Nevada native will make his Winston Cup debut this Sunday in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway, driving the No. 97 Roush Racing John Deere Ford.

To call Busch an overnight success might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it isn’t too far-fetched. He rose from the hobby-stock ranks to the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series in 1998, where he won top rookie honors. He earned four victories in that series in 1999 while becoming the tour’s youngest champion at the age of 21.

Plucked from that area of the country by Jack Roush, Busch was given the opportunity to prove himself in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, and he certainly hasn’t let Roush down by any means. An almost certainty to win the NCTS Rookie of the Year Award, Busch is currently third in the series points standings behind teammate Greg Biffle and Mike Wallace, to go along with two victories, 13 top-10 and 10 top-five finishes in 2000.

Recently, the driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford F-150 was named as the driver of the No. 97 Roush Racing Ford for next season, replacing the Chad Little.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," Busch said. "I know I said that earlier this season when I started on the truck series, but I had no idea I would be here so quickly. I’ve had a great season thus far on the truck series, and I owe that to my crew chief, Matt Chambers, and the Exide team."

Once Busch got behind the wheel of the Exide Batteries Ford this season, there was little to slow him down. He made his presence in the truck series known early on, and began to capture the attention of many when he produced back-to-back victories at The Milwaukee Mile and New Hampshire International Speedway back in July.

While Biffle has paid his dues in the truck series for the past three years (he’ll be moving up to the NASCAR Busch Series next season), it took Busch and his team less than a year to earn Jack Roush’s respect enough for Roush to put him in a Winston Cup car.

Busch will race at Dover, Martinsville, Charlotte, Rockingham, Phoenix, Homestead and Atlanta the remainder of the season, keeping him eligible for rookie-of-the-year honors in 2001. The team will be searching for a sponsor, however, as John Deere has announced it will not be back as the backer for the 97 car next season.

"Matt (Chambers) is coming to the Cup ranks with me, and I’m hoping we can produce the same results there," Busch said. "We’re seeking sponsorship for the No. 97 in 2001 and a couple of good runs this year would certainly help those efforts.

"I appreciate everything that Jack (Roush) and the entire Roush organization has done for me. This is a dream come true, and I’m going to do my best to show Jack and everyone else that believes in me that they’ve made the right decision."

Busch’s "big weekend" began Tuesday when he flew from the truck team’s headquarters in Detroit to Charlotte to test his Winston Cup car at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the upcoming UAW-GM Qualty 500. On Wednesday, he traveled to Dover to participate in an open-test session for the trucks at Dover Downs, a track the truck series is visiting for the first time.

On Thursday he’ll practice and qualify the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford for Friday’s MBNA e-commerce.com 200, and on Friday he’ll take the "Monster Mile" for his first official Winston Cup practices and qualifying session, leading up to Sunday’s event.

Busch will be racing at Dover for the first time, a track that can teach even the most learned of Winston Cup drivers a few lessons.

"I’m very aware of that track’s reputation and I’m not going there thinking it’s going to be a picnic by any means," Busch said. "But then I’ll have a lot of notes and a lot of people’s opinions to rely on. I know I’ll be able to go to my teammates (Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Kevin Lepage) and rely on their expertise as to how to get around that place. I just hope we don’t disappoint in our first time out, and we show some people what we can do."

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