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Busch races to second win of year at Auto Club

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2003

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) Kurt Busch became the first two-time Winston Cup winner of the season Sunday, passing Jamie McMurray 12 laps from the end of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.

The 24-year-old Young Gun'' regained the form he showed late in the 2002 season, when he won three of the last five races.

Since winning last month at Bristol, Busch had slumped a bit, finishing ninth in Texas, 19th in Talladega and 28th in Martinsville. But his win Sunday on the 2-mile California oval gave the youngster five wins and three runner-up finishes in his last 15 starts.

We went on a little slide. No biggie,'' Busch said of the previous three races. We just struggled a little bit. Today, we put together a great effort.''

Busch led briefly in the middle of the race and stayed close to the leaders for most of the 250-lap event. Meanwhile, McMurray, Bobby Labonte and Rusty Wallace were battling for the top spot most of the second half.

McMurray and Labonte, who swapped the lead several times in the late going, were battling ahead of Busch when the last of eight caution flags came out after Dale Jarrett hit the wall to start a nine-car accident on lap 230.

Busch and Wallace took advantage of the situation to pass Labonte as they raced back to the flagstand to take the yellow.

Wallace tried hard to track down the leaders after the ensuing restart on lap 238. On the second lap after the green flag waved, Wallace, who now has gone 72 races without a win since his victory here in 2001, dove low on the banked oval and nearly got past McMurray and Busch.

But Wallace's Ford got a little high in the second turn, and Busch nosed under him and drove past both Wallace and Labonte to take the lead for the first time since lap 145.

The Las Vegas, Nev., native then pulled steadily away as Labonte and Wallace battled side-by-side for second. Labonte got the runner-up spot by a few feet but crossed the final line 2.294-seconds about 20 car-lengths behind Busch's Roush Racing Ford.

Busch, who finished second to Jimmie Johnson here last year, said: This makes up for what we did last year. We came up a bit shy.

This was just an all-out effort by our team. Every time I came in (for pits stops), we picked up spots.''

The winner, who now has six wins in his career, averaged 140.111 mph.

Bill Elliott finished fourth, followed by McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, John Andretti and series leader Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth, Busch's teammate, stayed in front of Earnhardt in the standings but had his lead cut from 51 to 44 points. Jeff Gordon, who finished 11th Sunday, remained third, with Busch moving from fifth to fourth.

A different driver had won in each of the first nine races, but Busch's victory left intact the record of 10 consecutive different winners at the start of the season, set in 2001.

Tony Stewart, the defending Winston Cup champion, led 100 of the first 128 laps before driving slowly to the garage with a broken rod in his engine. Stewart and McMurray were locked in a battle for the top spot, swapping the lead several times before smoke and oil began pouring from Stewart's No. 20 Chevrolet.

He was the first guy to come up and challenge,'' Stewart said of McMurray. I wasn't just going to let him go. It was the most fun I had all day, was racing Jamie.''

Pole-winner Steve Park brought out the first yellow of the day. He slipped to fifth after taking the green flag for the start and suddenly veered right, knocking Ryan Newman hard into the wall and sending his own car spinning down the track.

Both drivers eventually got back into the race but finished 40th and 42nd, respectively.



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