Second To None

Kurt Busch’s 2003 season is off to an incredible start. In the first five races of the season he’d finished second three times. While Kurt had every reason to celebrate the fact remained that he’d come that close to winning three races (.002 to the bad last week) and still ended up “first loser” as Dale Earnhardt used to call it. On Sunday at Bristol, Busch was second to none as he scored his first win this season.

Ironically Busch is second to one in the points standings, trailing teammate Matt Kenseth by 138 points in the chase for the Winston Cup. How can a driver finish first or second in four of six races and not be atop the standings? When it comes to screwed up, NASCAR’s point system is second to none. Under last year’s Formula One points system Busch would be leading Kenseth by a margin of 28 to 23.

Busch was one of six drivers to benefit from the fourteenth caution flag of the race that left those six drivers on a lap of their own while trapping some formidable competition, including Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and a resurgent Jimmy Spencer, laps down. Other competitors were felled by the mechanical carnage that is part and parcel of racing at Bristol. Victims of the wrecks included Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett.

Kenseth’s second place finish allowed his to leave Bristol still holding the points lead he took over from Busch after the Las Vegas event. Late in the race it appeared Kenseth might actually have a car capable of winning. On the final restart the good news was that Matt managed to pass Bobby Labonte. The bad news was he banged into the 18 car hard enough he bent up his car’s steering system and rendered it incapable of winning.

Labonte’s third place finish was enough to advance him six positions in the points standings to eighth. Last season Labonte managed only five top 5 finishes in all 36 points races. This year he’s already got three such finishes in six events.

Ricky Rudd’s association with the Wood Brothers also got off to a slow start and the fact Elliott Sadler in Rudd’s old ride was running substantially better only rubbed salt in the wound. Rudd managed a solid fourth place finish to score his first top 10 and top 5 finish of the season but that’s good enough to have him ninth in the points four positions ahead of Sadler despite Elliott’s three top 10 finishes this season. Go figure.

Greg Biffle finished fifth, easily the best result of his fledgling Winston Cup career. Biffle’s finish also gave Jack Roush three cars in the top 5 at Bristol, a track that hadn’t been particularly kind to the organization. Even more importantly none of the Roush Cup teams suffered an engine failure this weekend.

How bad a start has Sterling Marlin’s season gotten off to? Despite finished sixth today (his second top 10 of the season) Marlin finds himself mired in 22nd in the points. At this point last year Marlin was leading the points and held onto that lead until the second New Hampshire race.

Kevin Harvick had a pretty good weekend winning the Busch race on Saturday and coming home seventh, the first car a lap down, on Sunday. Had a caution fallen before he needed to make a green flag stop Harvick had a car that even seemed to have a shot at win. That’s a marked improvement for the 29 team and some credit must go to the new crew chief, Ed Berrier, who was with Harvick for his Rookie of the Year and championship season in the Busch series.

Jimmie Johnson finished seventh at Bristol, not bad for a driver who has only three starts at Thunder Valley. Oddly enough Johnson also finished seventh here in his first Bristol Cup start last year.

Jeff Gordon led the most laps at Bristol but even a ninth place finish must be considered a bit of a disappointment for one of the two maestros of Thunder Valley.

Kenny Wallace was easily his best of the 2003 season. (His previous best was 16th at Daytona.)

While pre-race favorites Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace both ran strong prior to that ill-timed yellow that ended their chances, a call has to go out to Jimmy Spencer and the lightly regarded 7 team. Spencer led 139 laps Sunday.

One might have thought with this nation at war and the threat of a terrorist attack on our soil, some fans might have been hesitant to attend a race that packs 160,000 people in a 20 acre parcel of land. But there didn’t seem to be an empty seat in the house. While it’s not great racing in the purist’s sense like Richmond when it comes to action Bristol is still second to none.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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