BRISTOL, Tenn. Kurt Busch avoided any post-race punches, but was in the middle of the usual bumping and banging in yet another win at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
Busch, punched in the face by Jimmy Spencer after last week's race in Michigan, kept his head held high amid a flood of criticism from his competitors, raucous booing from the fans and of course, the chipped tooth and swollen nose Spencer gave him.
He instead put his focus on the Sharpie 500, running away from Kevin Harvick to score his fourth win of the season and third in the last four races at Bristol.
But it didn't come without controversy.
Busch spun-out Sterling Marlin midway through the race as he tried to pass Marlin for second place, and knew immediately it didn't help his cause.
''I look like an idiot again,'' he sighed.
Maybe so, but it didn't really matter how he looked once he got to Victory Lane.
''Kurt went through a tough week and he came out strong, he's a tough guy,'' crew chief Jimmy Fenning said.
Busch didn't celebrate with the usual doughnuts, instead simply driving the No. 97 Ford to Victory Lane, few smiles on his face.
If he heard the thundering boos showered on him from the crowd of 160,000, he didn't let on.
''This is by far the biggest win, this beats all of my wins,'' Busch said. ''It is so sweet to come here with all of the things that dragged me down to get here.''
It was reminiscent of 1999, when the late Dale Earnhardt was drowned out by boos in Victory Lane after bumping past Terry Labonte for the win at Bristol.
''The late Dale Sr. once told me the guy with the most noise wins,'' Busch said.
Harvick finished second in a Chevrolet, never able to challenge Busch after he passed him for the lead 120 laps from the finish.
''I hate losing to Rubberhead,'' Harvick said, not bothering to mask his disdain for Busch.
Rookie Jamie McMurray was third in a Dodge, Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth was fourth in a Ford and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five in a Chevrolet.
Busch came to Bristol as Public Enemy No. 1, somehow becoming the villain in his spat with Spencer.
The feud started here in April 2002, when Busch bumped his way past Spencer for his first career victory.
There have been other skirmishes since, and it blew up last week when Busch intentionally tried to flatten Spencer's fender during the race.
Spencer then punched him in the face as Busch sat in his car. Spencer was suspended from Saturday night's race and Busch was placed on probation.
Busch was greeted by ''Free Jimmy'' T-shirts when he got to Bristol, and a wave of criticism from his fellow competitors.
''He's a cocky, arrogant, punk,'' Harvick said after the race. ''He just has a really, really bad attitude. But he can wheel a race car.''
Even so, Busch has likely added Marlin to his list of enemies.
Marlin was making a strong bid for his first win of the season and first ever on his home track when Busch spun him out as he tried to pass him for second place.
''Just a bonehead move,'' Marlin said. ''I don't guess Spencer got him hard enough.''
Busch knew he was under scrutiny.
''Nobody is going to cut me a break tonight, tell him 'I'm sorry,' '' Busch quickly radioed.
But NASCAR still warned him that he was under careful observation, and if anything else happened the rest of the night, he would be penalized.
''You're still on probation, Kurt, so we need to watch our Ps and Qs until they end,'' Fenning said.
Busch did, cleanly passing Harvick shortly after and hanging on for the win.
Kenseth, as usual, salvaged numerous close calls with disaster by registering his 19th top 10 of the season. He stretched his lead in the standings to a seemingly insurmountable 351 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Gordon, who came into the event third in the standings, was the defending race winner, and started from the pole, likely had his shot at ever catching Kenseth wiped out when he wrecked with just over 50 laps to go.
He finished 24th and is now 532 points out and fifth in the standings.
As per Bristol tradition, the race was marked with numerous on-track incidents.
Ryan Newman, who leads the series with five wins this season, was hit twice in the early parts of the race. He was in second when Gordon knocked him sideways, but salvaged disaster by not hitting the wall on the spin.
He did it again about 100 laps later when he was hit by Ted Musgrave, but the tight confines of the track created a long night for Newman.
''It looks like you're a pinball out there tonight, huh, buddy?'' his crew radioed to him.
But the tempers stayed relatively intact, perhaps because of the message NASCAR sent by suspending Spencer for bopping Busch in the nose.
Mark Martin had a strong car, leading 49 laps midway through the race and gambling on pit strategy to make a final run at the win.
Then he was hit with bad luck when he stopped for a quick splash of gas and pulled away with his catch can still attached to the car. He had to return to the pits for a penalty, which dropped him back into the pack amid less experienced drivers.
But when Johnny Sauter wrecked him, ending his night, Martin controlled his anger to a verbal jab.
''Johnnny Sauter he lost it, he was a weapon out there all night,'' Martin said. ''We had a great car and it just figures. I really think we had a chance to win this, too.''
Peninsula Clarion © 2015. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us