Waltrip avoids crash to capture Pepsi 300

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 12, 2004

GLADEVILLE, Tenn. - Michael Waltrip avoided a crash that took out the top four drivers with two laps to go, and won the Pepsi 300 on Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway.

Rookie Clint Bowyer was racing rookie Kyle Busch for the lead coming out of Turn 2 on lap 224 when he tapped Busch's Chevrolet. Busch started to spin, and Johnny Benson ran into the back of Bowyer, sending the trio and Robby Gordon into the infield.

Waltrip drove past the crash by hugging the wall.

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NASCAR ruled that Waltrip had already passed Johnny Sauter when the caution came out and the field was frozen, giving Waltrip his 11th Busch Series victory and first since August at Bristol.

''We were lucky for sure,'' Waltrip said.

''The first thing I thought when I drove out of the smoke on the back straightaway was the Red Sea had just parted. I drove out of the smoke and into Victory Lane.''

It took NASCAR time to figure out the finishing order because Gordon came across the line third followed by Bowyer, Busch, Kasey Kahne and Benson. The unofficial list had Sauter second followed by Kahne, Bowyer and Gordon.

Sauter wasn't happy with NASCAR's decision, thinking he was ahead of Waltrip when the field was frozen and that he should have won the race. Talking to reporters, he said he would bite his tongue because he doesn't need to get into more trouble.

Then he let loose on television.

''I think NASCAR is doing everything they can to keep me from winning races and accumulating points,'' he said.

Waltrip countered that drivers must maintain a reasonable speed back to the line.

''He got involved in the crash and did not maintain a reasonable speed,'' Waltrip said. ''So I'm sure it's easy for Johnny to complain he should've won. But he just doesn't know the rules.''

Bowyer, filling in for Kevin Harvick on the car owned by Richard Childress Racing, tried to make it very simple as he led 104 laps. He looked ready to become the fastest driver ever to win a Busch race in just his second event on the series.

But debris on the frontstretch forced the fifth caution and led to a restart with five laps remaining.

''I wish it'd never come out,'' Bowyer said. ''I definitely had the car to beat on a long run. I just didn't need that last caution.''

Busch passed Bowyer in Turn 3 on lap 223, then Bowyer tapped him and ran by him coming out of Turn 4. They kept fighting until the crash happened. Busch said he was trying to get to the bottom of the track when Bowyer hit him for the second time.

Waltrip said his crew came into this race with a car setup it had used last year, and he liked how he was running. But he was caught up with Ron Hornaday on lap 155, tearing up his Chevrolet. He was able to stay with the lead lap.

''It's no secret that it's OK to spin people out nowadays. We saw it this season a lot lately. Only problem with that tactic is it generally doesn't work at a place like Nashville or a big track,'' Waltrip said.

''Those cats were racing hard to get their first win obviously. They piled up the first five guys trying to do it.''

Defending champion David Green finished 10th. Pole winner Martin Truex, who started 39th after being forced to his backup car because of a practice crash, was 23rd. Bobby Hamilton Jr. started on the pole and led 78 laps, but he had tire trouble and finished 27th.

Waltrip, a regular on the Nextel Cup series, has an eight-point lead over Green in the Busch standings, and is considering running the rest of the season in a bid for the title.

''You know it's certainly intriguing to see if the logistics would work and we could figure out a way to do it,'' Waltrip said. ''It's not totally out of the question.''