HAMPTON, Ga. -- His Roush Racing crew was telling anyone who would listen Sunday morning that Kurt Busch would win the NAPA 500.
Their prediction came true, and the crew of the No. 97 Ford played a major role as Busch outran the competition and the weather, grabbing his second straight Winston Cup victory in the rain-shortened race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After one long rain delay and threatening skies throughout, the race scheduled for 325 laps ended under a yellow flag on lap 248 as the wet weather finally arrived.
Busch's victory was sparked by some fast work by his crew during the last round of green-flag pit stops.
Busch's Taurus was the first of the contending cars to drive onto pit road, going into the stops third and leading when the last car had pitted. Busch stayed in front the last 43 laps on the fast 1.54-mile quad-oval, keeping the top spot when all the leaders made their final stops under yellow on lap 232.
''We can talk about it all we want,'' Busch said when asked about the prediction by his crew. ''It's just a matter of getting it done.''
The win on Sunday was the third of his career and the third of the year for the 24-year-old driver from Las Vegas. The first two came at Bristol and Martinsville, two of the three tracks shorter than a mile on the Winston Cup schedule.
''This one felt much sweeter. Now I can enjoy it. Just the adrenaline of running those last laps ... and holding off the (No. 25) car,'' Busch said, referring to runner-up Joe Nemechek. ''Our crew did it again.''
Before the decisive green-flag stop, Busch was watching Nemechek and series leader Tony Stewart battling in front of him.
''We got loose and got to sliding a little bit and that's what pushed us back,'' Busch said in the makeshift Victory Circle inside the empty Busch Series garage. ''We kept digging and made an adjustment at the end. I told (crew chief) Jimmy (Fennig), I said, 'Do this, do that and it'll be perfect.' We drove ourselves right to Victory Lane.''
Nemechek, a late-season replacement in the No. 25 Chevrolet, hung on for second in the same car in which Jerry Nadeau ran out of gas while leading on the final lap here last year.
Nemechek, hoping to keep the ride in the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2003, said, ''I'm just not sure how the 97 got in front of us on that last green flag deal,'' Nemechek said. ''We just needed a few more laps.''
Stewart wound up fourth, behind Dale Jarrett, and put some room between himself and the drivers chasing him in the championship battle with only three races remaining.
''There still isn't a sucker out there that can say we're points racing,'' Stewart said, grinning. ''We went for it. I was sideways out there chasing Nemechek.
''We said we were going to keep racing for wins and that's just what we're doing.''
Mark Martin finished eighth and moved past rookie Jimmie Johnson into second place, 146 points behind Stewart, who came into the race leading Johnson by only 82.
''We could have finished better than eighth if we would have gotten the rest of the race in because we were coming a little at a time,'' Martin said. ''But I'm thrilled. We didn't have anything like that in practice.''
Johnson, who brought out two caution flags Sunday with spins coming off the fourth turn, wound up a lap down in 22nd and fell 150 points behind. Fellow rookie Ryan Newman moved past teammate Rusty Wallace into fourth in the standings, 203 behind Stewart and 24 ahead of Wallace.
''We had a loose race car and spun out twice,'' Johnson said. ''We brushed the wall on the first one and didn't hit anything the second time, but it's something we didn't need for the big picture.
''There's three races left, though, and anything can still happen.''
A light rain stopped the race on lap 26 and it took 2 hours, 26 minutes before the track was dry enough to get the cars back out.
From then until lap 163 -- the halfway point -- everybody was keeping one eye on the track and the other on the dark, threatening sky, expecting more rain. Other than occasional drops, though, it didn't come until the race had gone far enough to be considered an official event.
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