<
>

Being champion taxing Busch

2/11/2005

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kurt Busch might not stick around
NASCAR's Nextel Cup series as long as veterans such as Mark Martin,
Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott.

Those drivers are in their 40s and winding down long and
successful careers. Martin and Wallace plan to make 2005 their
final full season in Cup racing, Labonte is cutting back to a
10-race schedule for both 2005 and 2006 and Elliott went to a
limited schedule last season.

The 26-year-old Busch is a long way from joining the elder
statesmen of the sport, but the 36-race season -- particularly the
10-race playoff-style finish -- have already taken their toll on the
series champion.

"When I first jumped into the sport five years ago, it looked
like I could do 25 more years and that would put me in my late 40s
or early 50s,'' Busch said Thursday at Daytona International
Speedway.

Now, he has major doubts.

"With the schedule and demands of the championship, and
hopefully more championships to come along, it's a matter of
balancing it out to where you do take a day [offe] each week,'' Busch
said. "Where you do separate some time for yourself to where
you're not in the hustle and bustle a full 36 weeks straight.

"For me, I'd say with what has happened with this new Chase
format and the way it progresses on my body, maybe five years have
been knocked off already.''

He thinks 45 or even 40 will be the ideal age for most drivers
to retire.

"But I definitely don't see drivers going into their 50s like
they do right now,'' Busch said.

Fan favorite already
Kasey Kahne, last year's top Cup rookie, has already
become a fan favorite -- and he enjoys it.

"The fans will run up on you at places you don't expect them,''
said Kahne, who usually stays in a motorhome in the drivers'
compound at the track on race weekends. "Fans will jump the fences
at night and come knocking at your door. I actually let a couple in
one time.

"I was watching the Final Four and these guys came up and were
into it. I have no clue why I let them in. We watched the game and
then they took off. It was pretty cool, but fans will do
anything.''

Emergency landing
A corporate aircraft traveling Thursday
from Concord, N.C., to Daytona Beach with NASCAR driver Mike Wallace
and his wife, Carla, aboard made an emergency landing after being
diverted to Lakeland, Fla.

There was believed to be a problem with the landing gear, but
emergency equipment standing by was not needed when the plane
landed without incident.

Wallace, who plans to compete in the Daytona 500 and the Busch
and truck series races next week, said an inspection revealed a $3
plastic penlight flashlight had rolled up under the dashboard and
jammed under the gear release.

"The nice part about it is nothing happened,'' Wallace said.
"Everything ended up perfect.''

The Other Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a huge star in
NASCAR as well as the defending champion of the Daytona 500, but
older half brother Kerry is just hoping to make the big race and
begin establishing himself in the sport.

"It's pretty exciting to be at Daytona anytime, but to be here
trying to make the Daytona 500 is pretty big,'' said the
34-year-old Kerry, who will drive a partial Cup schedule for
Richard Childress Racing as well as a full Craftsman Truck slate
for Ballew Motorsports.

His father, Dale Earnhardt, killed in a crash during the 2001
Daytona 500, drove much of his career for Childress.

"It's a very special opportunity for me because Dad drove for
him,'' Earnhardt said. "A lot of people say it's because of Dad
that I have the opportunity, but you know what, Richard still has
to believe in me and put together the team, the equipment and the
money that goes into the Bass Pro program.

"It says a lot about Richard, that he believes in me enough to
put me in his equipment to race the superspeedway races this
season. Hopefully, it will turn into something bigger.''

His father was known as a master of racing at Daytona, where
carburetor restrictor plates sap horsepower and the cars runs in
giant packs. Dale Jr. has taken his father's mantle as the top
restrictor-plate driver and Kerry would like to show it runs in the
family.

"I really like restrictor-plate racing,'' said Kerry, who drove
for Childress in plate races last season at Daytona and Talladega.
"I didn't think I would, but it's been a lot of fun. I've adapted
do it pretty quick. I haven't really had anyone teach me how to
draft or anything. It's come pretty natural.

"I'm not going to say I'm good at it because the results don't
show it. But we've run up front and pushed Dale Jr. to the front
once so its been a good time.''

Miscellaneous
Longtime NASCAR driver Ken Schrader expects to
move to the Craftsman Truck series after his Cup contract ends
following the 2006 season. .... Seven-time Cup champion Richard
Petty will serve as the national membership chairman for the new
NASCAR Members Club, an organization designed to further involve
the estimated 75 million stock car fans in the sport. For a $40
annual fee, fans 13 and older will be entitled to VIP treatment at
NASCAR races, special events and race-week parties and other
amenities.