For Kurt Busch there's no holding back in his run for the points lead
During the last race of his life Dale Earnhardt delivered a pointed message to Kurt Busch, who was making only the eighth start of his Winston Cup career. With 30 laps to go in the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt and Busch were side by side, racing hard off Turn 4. In their furious attempts to hold their lines, they banged into each other. The Intimidator, who felt that the rookie should've given ground, stuck his left hand out the window and, at 190 mph, gave Busch a one-fingered salute. In explaining his refusal to back down from Earnhardt, who died in a last-lap crash that afternoon, Busch said recently that he was merely emulating Earnhardt's unapologetic, hard-charging racing style. "I admired Dale," said Busch, 24. "He never backed down. I don't either. I like to think that I drive with high energy and determination."
While some drivers privately describe Busch's determination as borderline recklessness, they don't dispute that his aggressiveness has made him the early favorite to win the points title. On Sunday, after three runner-up finishes in the first five Winston Cup events of the year, Busch finally took the checkered flag, at the wreck-filled Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn. The victory vaulted Busch into second place in the points standings, behind his teammate Matt Kenseth, who was second at Bristol.
Since last fall Busch has been NASCAR's dominant driver, amassing four victories and those three seconds over a span of 11 races. In a rarity for a young driver, Busch has run well on every type of track. This season alone he has excelled on a superspeedway (second at Daytona), intermediate tracks (seconds at Rockingham and Atlanta) and a short track ( Bristol).
"Kurt's a talent that comes along once every 10 years," says Robbie Loomis, the crew chief for Jeff Gordon. "Some say he's too aggressive, but I think he's just got a tremendous feel for the car."
Not everyone, though, is so taken with Busch's driving tactics. Jimmy Spencer, who has often jousted with Busch, subscribes to the unwritten rule that young drivers should give more than they take on the track. "Kurt better watch it," says Spencer, 46. "He's got to learn not to push the wrong people, because it'll come back at him."
Poll: Most Reckless Driver
It's a Bodine
Todd Bodine might not be NASCAR's most accident-prone driver (chart, below)—it only seems that way. In a survey of 26 drivers and team spotters, 21 cited Bodine as the racer most likely to create track havoc. "He doesn't make the best decisions," one driver says. "Even if he's a lap down, he won't let you pass."
Though he was not part of the poll, Terry Labonte left no doubt which racing family (if not which racer) he would've selected. After Brett Bodine put him into the wall on Sunday, Labonte said, "Anytime you race with a Bodine, you're liable to get in a wreck For people who watch races, I don't think you really need to say any more."