Busch overcomes problems, still leads

Monday, October 18, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. -- If Kurt Busch goes on to win his first NASCAR title, he can point to the 500 miles at Lowe's Motor Speedway as the defining race of his season.

Busch rallied from a fender-bender in practice, a wreck on the first lap of the race, battled with a temperamental car and avoided two near disasters.

All in a day's work for Busch, who emerged from the UAW-GM Quality 500 on Saturday night with a fourth-place finish and his lead in the points standings intact.

"To be able to do this with dodging so many obstacles -- it was the adventure of Kurt Busch and team," he said. "We did a good job of just avoiding disaster as many times as it did strike. We had to avoid this and avoid that and continue to make adjustments on our car."

That Busch and his Roush Racing team were able to survive, and leave Charlotte with a 24-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the standings, doesn't bode well for the rest of the Chase contenders.

He's somehow managed to avoid mistakes and overcome bad breaks through all five of the first 10 NASCAR playoff races. Busch has finished in the top 10 in each of the events, and heads into the stretch run with victories on three of the remaining five tracks.

Asked Saturday night as if it was starting to seem like destiny that he would win the Nextel Cup championship, Busch wasn't sure.

"You've got to have the whole package, and right now we're very blessed to be in this situation," he said.

The weekend got off to ominous start for Busch during Friday's practice session. With his younger brother, Kyle, in the race and struggling with his car during practice, Busch pulled up to his bumper in an effort to assess why Kyle wasn't running well.

He lost concentration for a split second, and bounced off the wall.

His crew was able to make enough repairs to keep him from going to a backup car, but it was a very close call.

Then it took just 10 seconds of the race for his team to figure out what kind of night it was going to be. Scott Riggs missed a shift on the start, and his car became an obstacle for the rest of the speeding field.

It started a chain-reaction crash that damaged the cars of both Busch and third-place Chase driver Jeff Gordon.

After fixing the damage, Busch found the car was difficult to drive. Then Kevin Harvick blew an engine and dumped oil right in front of him, and Busch had to scramble to avoid it. He did, but Chase drivers Matt Kenseth and Jeremy Mayfield could not, and both crashed.

Then, late in the race, Jimmy Spencer and Brendan Gaughan wrecked, and Busch had to dart through the infield grass to keep from becoming a participant. Chase drivers Mark Martin and Ryan Newman didn't, and both were collected.

"It was a tall order of adversity to overcome," Busch said. "I was just far enough behind some of those accidents to stay away -- having a blown motor in front of us, to have a few wrecks and just being able to avoid the disaster. It was an adventurous night and we were able to come away with a good finish."

Gordon had just as many problems as Busch, and he too came away with a strong finish. He ended up crossing the finish line in second place -- right behind teammate Jimmie Johnson -- and left Charlotte 74 points out of the lead.

Gordon battled back from the first-lap crash, came back from two laps down, and wasn't significantly damaged in a spin that caused Rusty Wallace to hit him in the rear.

"That's why this team is so incredible," Gordon said. "I don't know what in the world happened at the beginning. We were junk. I got loose, I got a lap down, and all of a sudden it just came to life. We didn't gain a lot of points, but we didn't lose a lot, either."

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