Races at Bristol Motor Speedway never leave the fans
disappointed for lack of feuding. Last weekend’s Busch and Winston Cup races
became instant classics and another chapter in the long history of rumbles on
This year’s chapter has an interesting twist for Las
Vegas because the center of attention was 23 year old Kurt Busch, who held on to
win his first Winston Cup race. The Las Vegas native became the youngest driver
to win a race since 1994 when Jeff Gordon at Charlotte at age 22.
Busch made a veteran type winning move on Jimmy Spencer,
one of the roughest, toughest drivers on the circuit, with 55 laps remaining.
The winning move involved some bumping and got the hard-nosed Spencer sideways.
After the race, the war of words started.
Â “Kurt Busch
just smashed right into me,” Spencer said. “I passed him fair and square and
he just smashed into my back bumperÂ .Â .Â .Â That’s OK. I
never forget. The only thing is, when I smash back, he won’t finish.”
Then in a typical Bristol/WWF retort, Busch responded.
“Last year at Phoenix, he flat dumped us when he was a
lapped car and we were running in eighth place, He’s the one who never
forgets. I guess we could say that I don’t forget what happened at Phoenix.”
Spencer, who closed at 35-1 at Station Casinos properties,
is one driver you can bet will keep his word with retaliation. But the bottom
line Sunday was that Busch raised his stature as a driver to a whole new level
with the win, something that has eluded Spencer for eight years despite
presenting his bully image so well. Along with the $143,840 check, Busch now has
a higher level of confidence, respectability and toughness to be one of the top
drivers on tour.
What did Busch think about his odds back home?
“The line in Vegas? 50-1, 10-1, I don’t know. My mom
always puts money on me. I tell her not to, but I’m glad she did today.”
Busch has been 18-1 every week since the Vegas race, but
now that’s he proved that he can win and that his car is more than just
capable of running with leaders, those odds are a thing of the past.
The win pushed Busch into fifth in the points after six
races, 137 points behind leader Sterling Marlin, who finished outside the Top 10
for the first time all season. With no race this Easter weekend, it may be a
good time to check out some Winston Cup Championship future odds on a few
Though Jeff Gordon (3-1) hasn’t had any success this
season he still sits 10th in the points, 192 behind Marlin. It’s not likely
that Gordon will continue to slide for long, but the glaring trend of 13
straight races without a Top 5 finish, a ÂÃ‚Âcareer worst, lend evidence that he
may not repeat as champ.
Here are a few drivers other than Marlin (even) and Tony
Stewart (8-5) that make good cases for winning the points ÂÃ‚Âtitle. Busch (10-1):
He’s been competitive in every race this season and now fulfills all the
promise and hype with the ÂÃ‚Âreality of a win. Sure he’s young and it takes a
veteran’s savvy to be good even when the car isn’t to get the quality
finish, but so far we haven’t seen him in a bad car. The leadership of Crew
Chief Jimmy Fennig is a major bonus for this team’s chances.
Matt Kenseth (6-1): Currently sits second, only 92 points
behind. With a poor finish by Marlin and a Top 5 next week at Texas, Kenseth
would be the new leader. So far he has a win with four Top 10 finishes. Kenseth
is not exactly the biggest name out there, but like Busch, comes from the
rejuvenated Roush Racing stable.
Where it used to be Mark Martin (20-1) and Jeff Burton
(12-1) only two years ago battling for the top spot, we now see the younger
Roush generation taking charge. Thus far, Kenseth’s season and stage of his
career look similar to Alan Kulwicki’s 1991 championship season where he
dueled the big names to the final week for the crown.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10-1): Currently sixth in points.
Little E hit the fountain of success the last few weeks to give him three Top 5
finishes in six races. Someday he will be a champion, perhaps even this year.
However, just as Kenseth brings on memories of Kulwicki, Junior echoes
similarities to Davey Allison, a driver who lost out on that final 1991 weekend.
Junior’s style, like Allison’s, is all out all the time. Patience is
something he just doesn’t have time for, which will hurt him in a points
Rusty Wallace (8-1): Currently third in points. Wallace has
solid races every week. Nothing dominant nor even being close to a win yet, but
there he is. As we make comparisons to past champions, we can look at Benny
Parsons, who won just once in 1973. Also, Terry Labonte combined for only four
wins in his two driving championships but finished in the Top 10 nearly every
Overall consistency is the key and with so much parity
involved in today’s brand of racing, no one is going to run away with the
title nor can anyone be counted out as of yet, unless your name is Buckshot.
Early odds for the
favorites April 7 at Texas: Earnhardt (6-1), Gordon (7-1), Marlin (7-1),
Bobby Labonte (7-1), Stewart (7-1), Dale Jarrett (8-1),
Jeff Burton (10-1), Ricky Rudd (12-1), Wallace (12-1), Busch (12-1)Â
and Kenseth (16-1).