Cup Racing Agrees With Busch
October 21, 2002 | 8:42 A.M. EST
And why not? Some drivers go their whole careers without earning two Cup victories. Busch has done it in less than two years, and all before his 25th birthday.
Only three other drivers – Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Jeff Gordon – have done that, and those guys have 11 Winston Cup championships between them.
Busch took his second checkered flag Sunday with a tremendous run in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway. He earned his first career victory on another short track, Bristol Motor Speedway, in March.
Gordon, who hit his stride in his mid-20s, had 15 victories before turning 25 years old. Petty had seven, while Johnson won five races before that. Only nine other drivers had one victory before age 25, including this year’s top rookie candidate to date, Ryan Newman, who won at New Hampshire this season.
At Bristol, Busch tangled with Jimmy Spencer in the final laps before prevailing. On Sunday at Martinsville, Johnny Benson gave Busch a run at the end and even tapped him a bit from behind, but Busch was able to hold on.
“This is sweet,” the driver of the No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus said. “This is Winston Cup. This is racing with the best of the best. Racing with Johnny Benson at the end is no different than racing with a Dale Jarrett or a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Earnhardt, who used to pressure you hard. It was a great race, a great ride for us and it’s just great that Martinsville puts on good shows like this all the time.”
Busch showed a great deal of fortitude in keeping Benson behind him. Benson was looking for his first career Winston Cup triumph in 223 tries, and he wanted it badly, but not badly enough to spin Busch out.
“I did everything I could to get around Kurt – even bumped him once,” Benson said. “But, it wasn’t enough – he just got a little out of shape and I just couldn’t do anything with it. He ran a clean race and I thought we did. We just kept working hard, trying to get up there. I think if I was in front of him we’d have been a little bit better. But, with him in front of us, he was pretty good, too. So, I think how we were going to be situated is how we were going to end up.”
“He raced me great,” Busch said of Benson. “I raced him great. I mean, I bumped him at Bristol to get the lead. We really had a good enough car to win, so it feels great. It was clean running. I know how hungry he is, but we were starving, too. We needed to get that second win.”
The victory was Roush Racing’s seventh of the season between its four drivers. Matt Kenseth has four, Busch two and Mark Martin one. Jeff Burton is the only Roush driver without a trip to victory lane.
Busch struggled during his rookie season a year ago, finishing 27th in the Winston Cup points standings in only his second year at NASCAR’s elite levels (he finished second to teammate Greg Biffle in the 2000 Craftsman Truck Series championship chase while winning Rookie of the Year honors).
A-less-than-satisfying rookie season, team owner Jack Roush said, made Busch a determined driver in 2002. He’s responded, and should easily finish in the Top 10 in the points.
“He’s plenty hungry, I can swear to that,” Roush said. “This (Sunday’s victory) is really a testament to (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and Shawn Parker and the whole Rubbermaid (his sponsor) crew for putting together a car that was adjustable so that when Kurt got in to the race he was able to tell what the car was doing and let Jimmy make the changes.
“The reason Kurt is sitting here, beyond Rubbermaid’s support and the rest of it, is because he’s so incredibly talented and he’s so quick to adapt to situations that are different. On Saturday, we truly felt that before we came back here again we had to test. We were so embarrassed that the practice wasn’t better, but they made the car adjustable, Kurt told Jimmy what it was doing and they worked on it all day and here we are.”
Busch overcame adversity Sunday when he, after making his way into the Top 15 by Lap 175, was bumped from behind by Gordon coming off of Turn 4 and spun out. He didn’t hit anything, lost a few positions, but regained his composure and took the lead on Lap 389.
Benson headed him once – on Lap 409 – but Busch took the lead for good on Lap 410 of 500.
“Everybody was racing tight,” Busch said of the incident. “We had just caught that pack in front of me and I asked Jimmy (Fennig), ‘How much are they asking to pay to park in this parking lot?’ because there were cars everywhere. We started to maneuver and I guess I may have pinched whoever it was that ran into us, I guess it was Jeff Gordon.
“I thought Bill Elliott was right behind me, but I made my move too late to go into Turn 3. I kind of cut down and maybe Jeff was there and maybe he got into too hot. I wasn’t really worried about it because at Martinsville, you can spin around, make a lot of smoke, smokescreen everybody, and stay on the lead lap and only lose a few positions. We had no real worries.”
In the process of picking up his second career win, Busch made history. After starting from the 36th position, he became the driver to come from deepest in the field ever to win a race in 98 Cup events at Martinsville.
“It’s always good to set a milestone like that,” Busch said. “It’s something where we just struggled in qualifying. I always have here and, hopefully, won’t always will. Hopefully we can get it down and run competitively in qualifying, which will give us a better pit box and a better weekend outlook (in the future at Martinsville).”