BUSCH: Point race tightens after Phoenix

Bobby Hamilton Jr won his forth Busch race of the season by taking the checkers at the Bashas' 200 at the newly re-configured Phoenix International Raceway. "The day was tremendous, said Hamilton. We never got out of the top five. I think...

Bobby Hamilton Jr won his forth Busch race of the season by taking the checkers at the Bashas' 200 at the newly re-configured Phoenix International Raceway.

"The day was tremendous, said Hamilton. We never got out of the top five. I think we led the most laps. We're doing everything we can to put pressure on the guy in fifth (in the points). To get our fourth win of the year, I mean the last couple of weeks have been huge. It seems right now we have luck on our side and we're trying to take advantage of it."

After qualifying forth, the Tennessee native ran with the top five before taking the lead on lap sixty, when he passed pole sitter Kevin Harvick.

Hamilton, so dominant, that he never relinquished the lead, except for two laps during cycled pit stops.

Hamilton, who now holds the distinction of most wins in 2003 is one up on fellow competitors Joe Nemecheck, Brian Vickers, David Green, and Kevin Harvick, each of whom has seen victory lane three times. Hamilton's season, got off to a slow start as the veteran only scored one top five finish through the first thirteen races. The then improved performance with the addition of 2002 Champion crew chief Harold Holly.

In the nineteen races since Holly joined Team Rensi, Hamilton has scored his four wins, and finished outside the top ten only five times.

Finishing behind Hamilton were Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Joe Nemechek, and Ron Hornaday.

Harvick, who felt he had something for Hamilton in late race stages, fell behind after long pit stop. Harvick used up his car getting back to the front and had to settle for a second place finish.

"We had a strong car all day, but the pit stop at the end set us back and we didn't have enough time left in the race to make it up. The pit stop sucked", noted a frustrated Harvick.

The Championship points battle continues to be the closest in series history as once again, the lead changed hands, as leader David Green struggled to find the handle on his car and had to settle for a sixteenth place finish, as the other championship contenders finished eleventh or better.

"We qualified good, had a decent practice and the old car didn't do what we thought it should have done, said Green. We made a lot of changes and nothing really happened. We'll just have to get back on track next week. Out of thirty-two races to have one bad race is nothing to be ashamed of." Green dropped to forth in the standings, twenty-two behind the new leader Scott Riggs.

Between Riggs and Green are Ron Hornaday and Brian Vickers, seventeen and twenty-one points out respectively.

Vickers, who lost the point's lead to Green at Atlanta, was happy with his team's performance.

"I started sixth and finished third, said Vickers. Our car was real good all day long. Harvick and Hamilton were both really strong and I wasn't going to be able to run with them all day. We lost some places in points in Atlanta but managed to move ourselves up a couple of spots today, so we're pleased to get ourselves back in the race."

Jason Keller, who finished in eleventh dropped to fifth in the standings, sixty points off the points. By virtue of winning two of the last three events, Hamilton Jr is still in the hunt; sixth in points and one hundred and twenty five points away from Riggs with two races remaining.

Mother Nature had her hands in the race. Racing in the Arizona desert, the last thing anyone expected was to have the event impacted by rain. Further proving that this season is anything but predictable, the race was red flagged after four laps for rain, and finished under yellow for the same reason.

Next week the series heads back home for the Sam's Club 200 at the historic North Carolina Motor Speedway.

-thomas chemris, guest writer

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Series NASCAR-NS