DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Rick Hendrick sees something he likes, he's not afraid to go after it.
He surprised everyone in 1992 by pirating Jeff Gordon away from his handshake deal with Bill Davis Racing and Ford Motorsports. Now he's done it with another prodigy Kyle Busch.
The younger brother of Kurt Busch, who was scheduled to join his brother at Roush Racing as soon as he turned 18, stunned the sport this week by signing a contract to work for one of Roush's biggest rivals.
The deal, much like Gordon's in 1992, came because young drivers didn't have the security of a contract with their prospective em ployers. Hendrick didn't make the same mistake.
''I remember the first time I saw Jeff drive, I asked somebody about him,'' Hendrick said. ''I was told he didn't have a contract. The next day he did.'' With Hendrick.
Kyle Busch was supposed to drive on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year for Roush, but the sanctioning body instituted a minimum age of 18 for all of its premier series.
Young Busch, now 17, will run at least seven NASCAR Busch Series races this year after he turns 18 on May 2 and compete full time on the circuit in 2004, Hendrick said.
''Kyle is one of the best young racers I've ever been around and it's certainly exciting to have him on board,'' Hendrick said. ''To say he has a bright future would be an understatement.''
When he was 16, Busch had two top-10
finishes in six starts in the truck series
before NASCAR changed its rules. He
spent last season driving on the American Speed Association circuit, finishing eighth in points.
BUD SHOOTOUT: Smaller gas tanks and a 10-minute break after 20 laps are two changes for this Saturday's Budweiser Shootout all-star race at the Daytona International Speedway.
While the changes have added a twist to the race open only to pole winners from 2003 and former all-star champions, the biggest change is the switch from a Sunday afternoon start to prime time Saturday.
NASCAR went to a smaller fuel cell a year ago for its races at Daytona and Talladega, Ala., to help break up the large packs of traffic. Teams now may have to make two pit stops during the 70-lap main event instead of one.
The race will be broken into two segments. After the first 20 laps, there will be a 10-minute intermission when teams can make minor adjustments to their cars.
The smaller gas tanks will force teams to make another stop during the final 50 laps.
PIT STOPS: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears has been hired by the Indy Racing League as a driver coach and consultant for its developmental series, the Infiniti Pro Series. Mears will mentor and coach young drivers. A man driving in the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway suffered a heart attack on the track and died. Philip Jerome Malarkey of Arnold, Md., died of natural causes, the coroner said, after he apparently became unconscious and hit the wall.
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