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It's like Earnhardt against Earnhardt

Busch bumps Junior out of a NASCAR win in the hard-charging style of Dale Sr.

May 06, 2008|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

The irony was unmistakable.

Just as Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed poised to notch his first NASCAR Cup win in two years Saturday night, the Chevrolet of NASCAR's most popular driver was hit by Kyle Busch's Toyota, sending Earnhardt into the wall and out of contention.

The irony was that Busch's aggressive driving was reminiscent of -- you guessed it -- Earnhardt's father, the late Dale Earnhardt, who won seven Cup titles and the moniker "The Intimidator" for a similar hard-charging style.

Busch, in fact, already had been often compared to the senior Earnhardt even before Saturday's race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, where Busch ultimately finished second behind Clint Bowyer and "Junior" had to settle for 15th.

The Busch-Earnhardt collision was chalked up by many as another of the incidents that are commonplace on short tracks such as the three-quarter-mile RIR oval.

"We know it was a racing incident and racing hard -- both of us, and not really giving each other much room," Busch, the sport's hottest driver lately, said Monday during a break from testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C.

But that didn't make the disappointment any less acute for Earnhardt or his multitude of fans, and Earnhardt and others wryly joked that Busch might have needed extra security when he left the track.

"I told the cops, 'I don't know why they were escorting me in here,' " Bowyer said at his post-race news conference. "I told them, 'They better get on and escort Kyle Busch out of here.' "

Asked about the fan reaction as he left the raceway, Busch said "it wasn't too bad," with "just a couple fans yelling derogatory comments.

"It's nothing new to me anyway," said Busch, 23, who often hears the same booing once showered on Earnhardt Sr. early in his career. "I'm used to it. I pretty much told them 'Grow up, that's racing.' "

Busch now leads the NASCAR Cup standings by 18 points over Jeff Burton and by 104 over third-place Earnhardt.

Earnhardt said "the worst part about it is that I have been priding myself on running good all year and I was in position for a win. I ran hard and got wrecked," he said. "I had a top-three car and should have finished in the top three. Just disappointed."

The incident occurred with Busch on the inside of Earnhardt. Running side-by-side, they made contact and Earnhardt spun and crashed into the outside wall.

"We probably could have given each other a little more room," Busch said Monday, adding that he had left a phone message for Earnhardt.

"I probably could have dove further to the bottom," but "we just made contact. Unfortunately, he got the worst brunt of it.

"I hope we can talk about it and put it behind us. It's Cinco de Mayo; maybe we'll go party it up a little bit."

------

Stock-car racing returned to Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, a familiar name on NASCAR's schedule until it was dropped from the series four years ago.

Rockingham lost its last Cup race after 2004 as NASCAR expanded nationally. But Andy Hillenburg, a former racer and driving-school owner, bought the 1.02-mile facility at auction last year with plans to bring racing back to "The Rock."

On Sunday, Rockingham played host to the Carolina 500, a race in the minor-league ARCA/ReMax series won by 17-year-old Joey Logano, a Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver.

Logano, who also won the All-Star Showdown for racers in NASCAR's developmental series at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale last October, hopes to join NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series after he turns 18 on May 24.

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Have a motor sports question for Peltz? E-mail him at james.peltz@latimes.com

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