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The Kid Gives It His All

Kyle Busch, barely 20, becomes youngest winner in NASCAR's premier series, then donates all his prize money, $241,065, to hurricane relief fund.

September 05, 2005|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

A couple of years ago, when Kurt Bursch burst onto the NASCAR scene and started winning races, the folks back in Las Vegas smiled and told anyone who would listen, "If you think Kurt is good, just wait until you see his kid brother Kyle."

They saw The Kid Sunday.

In front of a packed California Speedway and a national TV audience, little brother Kyle -- barely 20 -- became the youngest winner in NASCAR history, impressively holding off Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers and pole-sitter Carl Edwards in a two-lap shootout after a late accident brought out a yellow flag.

"Just incredible, just incredible," said an emotional Busch as his blue and yellow clad Kellogg's Chevrolet crew enveloped him on the track, followed by car owner Ray Hendrick and big brother Kurt, who finished 12th.

Then he donated his winner's purse of $241,065 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund.

"For how much joy we're able to share here, I still want to dedicate it to all those guys down there in Louisiana and Mississippi," he said, then turned to Hendrick and said, "We're going to donate your share and my share to them down there."

Busch became NASCAR's youngest winner by four days. He is 20 years, 4 months, 2 days old. The previous youngest was Donald Thomas, who was 20 years, 4 months, 6 days when he won at Atlanta in 1951.

In a race dominated earlier by "Chase for the Championship" talk, the dramatic rush of the younger Busch from 25th starting position to take the lead in 82 laps overshadowed a confusing day-into-night of racing.

"My nerves were on edge when I made my last pit stop," he said. "I didn't know what the other guys would do, but when I looked in my mirrors and saw them coming in with me, I thought, 'Hey, that's good.' "

Busch led the final 11 laps but had to live through three caution periods. The last involved an accident on the backstretch involving Scott Riggs, Scott Wimmer and Jeff Burton that forced race officials to call for a green-white-checkered two-lap shootout.

"Kyle got a great restart there," said Biffle, who won at Fontana in February but could not catch Busch. "Congratulations to him and that whole Hendrick team."

California Speedway has been good to the Busch family in the past, even counting the day in 2001 when Kyle was the fastest qualifier for a Craftsman Truck race only to be prevented from racing because he was underage.

"That was a sad night for the Busch family, but in the end it turned out fine because it was that night that I became associated with Ray Hendrick," Kyle said.

Kyle also won the pole for the Auto Club 500 in February. Kurt Busch won that race in 2003.

"Beating Biffle, it was kind of like my first win in the Busch series," Kyle said. "He was hunting down my rear spoiler then, too. To be able to beat all 42 Nextel Cup competitors out here it's just amazing."

After 3 hours 43 minutes of action that saw 30 lead changes among 12 drivers, Mark Martin clinched a spot in the Chase, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth moved into the top 10, Ryan Newman is one point back of 10th and Jeff Gordon fell from 10th to 12th and is in danger of missing out.

Only one race remains, Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond, Va., before the 10-race Chase shootout.

Four-time champion Gordon was running as high as 10th after 200 laps, but faded to 21st and is now 30 points out of 10th place.

"It was a hell of a night," said Gordon. "We're definitely the ones that are behind. I thought we had a great car here, then things went backward. That shows how much I know."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an engine blow, and that blew away his last fading hope of running for the championship. Junior finished 38th.

"Our car was horrible," said Earnhardt. "I'm glad it's over with and I'm ready to go to Richmond. ... It was all over for me for at least 80 laps. The motor just blew up. If it hadn't blown up it would have gone to hell."

Edwards, who won the pole Saturday before winning a Busch series race, led 21 laps early in the race before a blown tire sent him into a double spin and back to 33rd place before he worked his Roush Ford back to fourth place.

The comeback put Edwards into position for a berth in the Chase if he finishes 19th or better at Richmond.

Tony Stewart, the Nextel Cup leader, finished fifth after leading 56 laps.

"I'm pleased with the whole race," he said. "It was such an improvement from the way we ran here in the spring. The car probably got a little big tighter [when the sun went down] but we were still really fast when it got dark. I think we had the third-best car in the race."

Stewart, Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace and Martin are securely in the Chase, and Kurt Busch will be in by starting the Richmond race. Jeremy Mayfield needs only to finish 39th or better to make it.

Ricky Rudd, whose father died Friday, returned in time to drive and finished ninth. Jon Wood had qualified the car, so Rudd had to start last.

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