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HAMPTON, Ga.—Kyle Busch drove a Toyota to victory in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 500 to give the Japanese auto maker its first Cup win after only 40 starts.
Busch, who also won Friday’s night’s Craftsman Truck Series race, led 172 of the 325-lap race and finished nearly three-seconds ahead of his teammate, Tony Stewart, who also drove a Toyota.
“It was an awesome car being able to run like that,” Busch said. “Carl (Edwards) had a great car also, but he had some issues. But to run 500 miles and win, you can’t have any issues.”
In addition to leading the Cup points, Busch also leads the Craftsman Trucks and is second in the Nationwide Series.
Many drivers complained about how hard their cars handled, but runner-up Stewart blamed his car’s handling problems on the tires, and blasted Goodyear.
“Really, it’s very simple,” Stewart said. “It’s because we were on such bad tires. That’s the worst tire I’ve ever been on in my life. If you look at when they (Goodyear) exited Formula One, IRL, the World of Outlaws and all the other series, it’s because they couldn’t keep up, because they didn’t have the technology. They just couldn’t compete.
“This was pathetic what we raced on today. I’m going home and check all the tires on my personal cars, and if I have any Goodyears I’m going to dismount them and put on Firestones, or some other brand.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was strong during the early stages of the race, but lacked the necessary speed to overtake Busch late in the race, and finished third.
“Yeah, it was a great run for us today,” Earnhardt said. “We had a good race car, but we went backwards from the start and could never get it quite where we wanted it. Tony (Eury, crew chief) did a good job today trying to get the car better. It was a hard day, but I’m proud of my team.”
Greg Biffle’s fourth-place finish allowed him to move into second in the points.
“Tony did a great job of protecting Kyle Busch, his teammate, but he was racing for position, and he raced me pretty well,” Biffle said. “If I could have gotten by Tony earlier, then I might have been able to catch Kyle. But as it was, I just ran out of laps.”
Pole-sitter Jeff Gordon finished fifth, and like most of the drivers, he complained about how hard it was to drive the new car.
“This was the hardest day I’ve had at Atlanta,” Gordon said. “Our team did a good job, but I don’t think there wasn’t any teams that had a really amazing setup. Nobody was perfect. It was just a challenging day.”
Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Top-12 Sprint Cup Chase contenders after 4 of 35: 1. Kyle Busch-665, 2. Biffle-592, 3. Harvick-574, 4. Newman-571, 5. Burton-555, 6. Kahne-534, 7. Earnhardt-531, 8. Stewart-525, 9. Vickers-491, 10. Kurt Busch-478, 11. Truex Jr.-471, 12. Kenseth-470
Top-10 Nationwide Series leaders after 4 of 35: 1. Harvick-605, 2. Edwards-580, 3. Kyle Busch-531, 4. Ragan-524, 5. Bowyer-507, 6. Reutimann-503, 7. Stewart-472, 8. Bliss-472, 9. M. Wallace-469, 10. Bires-445
Top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders after 3 of 25: 1. Kyle Busch-555, 2. Bodine-483, 3. Hornaday-433, 4. McCumbee-415, 5. Benson-413, 6. Crawford-411, 7. Skinner-393, 8. Starr-384, 9. Setzer-383, 10. McGilton-376
Joe Weatherly, fun-loving NASCAR champion
Known simply as “Little Joe,” he was one of NASCAR’s most fun-loving but serious drivers. He was killed in an accident at Riverside (California) Raceway in 1964. His death left a void among those who knew him.
“He would race you as hard if not harder on the track than any other driver, but he was a joy to be around away from the track,” said Rex White, the 1960 NASCAR champion. “I mean he just liked to have fun and was always doing something to create a laugh.”
Joe Weatherly served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II in North Africa and Europe. While in North Africa, a German sniper’s bullet struck Weatherly in the face, knocking out two of his teeth and leaving behind a mean looking scar that would forever belie Little Joe’s sense of mischievous good humor.
When the war ended, Weatherly resumed a pre-war love affair with motorcycles, racing in the AMA where he attained a degree of fame and no small amount of success, earning three AMA championships between 1946 and 1950. “Little Joe,” as he came to be called, might easily have made a career as a motorcycle racer if not for his entry into NASCAR racing in 1950. Such was his skill on four wheels that he won the very first modified race he entered.
A volume could be written about Weatherly and his pranks on and off the track. He enjoyed behaving outrageously; wearing wild clothes and once he took practice laps wearing a Peter Pan suit. Moreover, he frequently stayed out partying until the early hours, usually with fellow driver and good time buddy Curtis Turner.
But behind the happy, fun-loving exterior, “Little Joe” held the heart of a champion. In a NASCAR Grand National career that spanned between 1952 and 1964, Weatherly notched 25 victories. The win column statistic is more astounding when we consider that he never ran anything approaching a full race season until 1962. Not surprisingly, in 1962 (his first full season) Weatherly won the NASCAR championship, claiming seven victories in a grueling span of 52 races.
The following year he backed up his dominating performance with six victories and another NASCAR championship. The 1963 championship is all the more amazing when we consider his car’s owner, Bud Moore didn’t have the resources to campaign a car throughout the entire season. Rather than sit out those races that Moore’s team couldn’t afford to run, he “bummed” rides in other team’s cars, thus salvaging the championship in grand fashion.
The 1961 Firecracker 250 at Daytona offers a wonderful example of his tenacity on the racetrack. During the race his Pontiac started popping out of gear unexpectedly. Refusing to pull into the garage, he twisted around in his seat in order to hold the shifter in gear with his right leg while using his left foot to operate the accelerator and brake pedals. As a testament to his perseverance, Weatherly finished sixth that day.
Joe Weatherly is remembered as a prankster, a fun-loving clown who just happened to be tough to beat on the track come race day.
Should Cup drivers be allowed to race in the Nationwide Series?
Weekend racing schedule
The Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams are at Bristol, Tenn. The Craftsman Trucks do not race again until March 29.
Sat., Mar. 15, Nationwide Series Sharpie Mini 300; Starting time: 2 p.m. (EST): TV: ABC.
Sun., Mar. 16, Sprint Cup Food City 500, Starting time: 1:30 p.m. (EST): TV: Fox; Distance: 500 laps; Defending champion: Kyle Busch.
Question: Only once has NASCAR’s “All Star” race not been held at Charlotte. Which track hosted the 1986 NASCAR “All Star” race? Note: E-mail, or send us the correct answer and we will send you a photo of the winning driver in victory lane.
Last week’s question
Travis Kvapil is a former Truck champion. Who is he driving for in 2008? Answer. He drives the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford in the Cup series.
Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. You may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.