GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch climbed out of his dragster with a huge smile on his face, then got mobbed by crewmembers.
He might as well have been in Victory Lane.
Busch celebrated a narrow defeat in his professional drag-racing debut Sunday, far from the emotions he would have shown had his day ended so early in a NASCAR race.
But Busch was a rookie in his first pro event, facing a seasoned veteran and merely trying to have some fun during NASCAR’s open weekend. So this loss was a big win — for Busch, for the NHRA Gatornationals and for the often-overlooked Pro Stock division.
“This was a weekend that I’ll never forget,” Busch said.
Erica Enders edged Busch by half a car length on the quarter-mile drag strip. Enders, the No. 5 seed, covered the distance in 6.538 seconds. The 12th-seeded Busch crossed the finish line in 6.541 seconds.
Nonetheless, Busch had the fifth-fastest time in the opening round — good enough to beat most of the field. It also turned out to be his best run ever, better than any of his 50 testing passes, better than his four qualifying efforts and better than anyone expected.
“We just came up short,” Busch said. “It’s three-hundredths of a second, and in this game of drag racing, that’s enough to put you back on the trailer. I feel we can hang our heads high about this. It was a fantastic enjoyment all weekend.”
Had the 2004 Sprint Cup champion been at a NASCAR event Sunday, he would have jumped on his private jet and been home in a few hours. Instead, he stuck around Gainesville Raceway to experience the event.
Kahne wins truck race
DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kasey Kahne earned himself a NASCAR victory and to him, that’s more important than a few days off.
The Sprint Cup star led the final 51 laps, held off defending series champion Todd Bodine and brought more success to Kyle Busch Motorsports in winning the Camping World Trucks event at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night.
Kahne could’ve easily been soaking up some sun, like his Cancun-bound truck owner, during the Sprint Cup off week. Instead, Kahne took part in his favorite form of relaxation — winning races.
“I’ll buy (Kyle) a vacation anytime to drive this thing again,” Kahne said.
The 30-year-old Kahne is one of Sprint Cup’s most popular drivers, as much for his easy-going nature and good looks as for his 11 series wins.
But Kahne hasn’t won on NASCAR’s biggest stage in nearly two years and relished taking the Too Tough To Tame 200 checkered flag.
“I enjoy winning and I don’t win near enough,” Kahne said. “So to come here and win this weekend feels great. There’s no way it can’t benefit … the next month or so, give me some momentum.’
“It’s exciting. I don’t care what it is.”
Ron Hornaday Jr. finished second, and Bodine was third. Series points leader Matt Crafton took fourth and James Buescher finished fifth.