Bumping part of the equation around Bristol

Saturday, March 22, 2003

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- A bump here, a nudge there. It's all just part of racing, especially at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch moved Jimmy Spencer out of his way to earn his first career victory here last year. Jeff Gordon used a bump-and-run on Rusty Wallace to win the August race.

With a victory on the line, the general consensus is that using a fender to move a competitor out of the way is fine.

"If you're slow enough as the leader and you let somebody (bump you), it is your own fault," Busch said Saturday. "That's the primary reason why you end up with a bump-and-run: because the leader isn't quick enough to maintain his speed."

Busch will start ninth today in the Food City 500, hoping he won't need to move anyone out of his way to win again.

He and Spencer went back and forth a year ago around Bristol's tight, high-banked .533-mile bullring. Busch gave up the lead after Spencer moved in on his bumper and muscled his way past him.

But in Turn 2 of the next lap, Busch bumped his way back into the lead. Spencer nearly lost control of his car, and he lost a lot of ground in his bid to challenge for the lead.

It started a feud that lasted all season between the drivers.

Spencer, who starts two spots ahead of Busch today, has not forgotten the move.

"I feel like I passed Kurt Busch fair and square here last year," Spencer said. "I didn't bump him and knock him out of the way. He slammed into me.

"My theory is you race them the way they race you. You rough Jimmy Spencer up, you're going to get it back. You're going to start it and I'm going to finish it."

That could make for an interesting Sunday as rivalries are remembered and paybacks are made with slight taps.

Ryan Newman starts from the pole after becoming the first driver to break the 15-second barrier in qualifying.

Gordon starts second. Wallace, still slightly annoyed over Gordon's stealing a victory here in 2002, lines up right behind him on the grid.

Wallace was leading August's race when Gordon knocked him out of the way with one lap to go. Gordon sailed past to end his 31-race winless streak.

"I think it's a little ridiculous to do that early in the race," Gordon said. "But at the end of the race -- especially if you're going for the win -- heck, yeah, I'd do it again."

NASCAR would love another close ending to a race.

Last week at Darlington, Ricky Craven won the closest finish since NASCAR adopted electronic scoring, besting Busch in a door-to-door duel down the backstretch. Their cars banged each other all the way down the track, smoke spewing from the tires as they crossed the finish line.

Busch was in another outstanding finish last month, going back and forth with eventual winner Dale Jarrett over the final 10 laps at North Carolina Speedway.

Busch is still looking for his first victory this season.

"It's tough to lose races," he said, "but I think the biggest thing is there's always lessons learned when you do lose a race."

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