For Kurt Busch there's no holding back in his run for the points
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
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
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
COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES After three seconds this year, Busch (97) was first at Bristol.
COLOR PHOTO: DONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES (INSET) [See caption above]
Texas Motor Speedway, host of this Sunday's Winston Cup race, has
been the site of numerous wreckfests. SI checked accident reports
from 2001 through last weekend to determine which drivers were
the most crash-prone (and crash-free), based on a races-per-wreck
ratio (minimum: 60 races).
MOST LIKELY TO WRECK
DRIVER RACES WRECKS RACES/WRECK
1. Jerry Nadeau 70 27 2.59
2. John Andretti 77 26 2.96
3. Jimmy Spencer 76 22 3.45
4. Joe Nemechek 70 19 3.68
5. Mike Skinner 65 17 3.82
LEAST LIKELY TO WRECK
DRIVER RACES WRECKS RACES/WRECK
1. Jeff Gordon 78 7 11.14
2. Kevin Harvick 76 8 9.50
3. Ricky Rudd 78 9 8.67
Tony Stewart 78 9 8.67
5. Kyle Petty 66 8 8.25