BUSCH: Weekend off for championship battle

With 12 races to go, championship race one of closest in series history NASCAR Busch Series rides momentum of outstanding IRP event DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 6, 2003) -- There are 12 races to go in the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season. Seven...

With 12 races to go, championship race one of closest in series history
NASCAR Busch Series rides momentum of outstanding IRP event

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 6, 2003) -- There are 12 races to go in the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season. Seven points separate first and second place. Only 99 points stand between first and fifth place.

Who will be the champion?

As the series takes a week off, one of the closest championship races in its history also takes a break.

Scott Riggs (No. 10 Nestle Nesquik Ford) will show a seven-point lead over David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) when racing resumes Aug. 16 at Michigan International Speedway. Riggs and Green have been dueling since June 7 at Nashville. During that eight-race span, Riggs has led the standings five times, while Green has been the series leader on three occasions. The largest gap between the two has been 46 points, the closest a mere two -- twice.

Green was also involved in a first place tug-of-war with Todd Bodine before his current contest with Riggs, going through two lead changes against Bodine during a four-race span earlier this year.

Green and Steve Grissom were just four points apart in 1993 -- the closest margin between first and second place with 12 races to go in series history. The tight battle between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth in 1998 had only a six-point differential with 12 races to go. Earnhardt ended up winning the first of consecutive titles that year. The current seven-point cushion Riggs "enjoys" is tied for third-closest in series history with Tommy Ellis and Mike Alexander in 1988, also with a dozen races to go. Ellis eventually won the title.

Riggs and Green can't assume a fight to the finish will only be against each other. This week's top five is only 99 points behind Riggs, the second-closest margin between first and fifth in series history with 12 races left. Joe Nemechek's 86-point differential in 1992 between his first-place ranking and fifth place is the closest in series annals. Nemechek went on to win over Bobby Labonte by a scant two points, the closest-ever championship finish in any of NASCAR's three national series.

Pre-season favorite Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertsons Ford) has steadily climbed in the rankings and is only 35 points out of the lead in third place. Ron Hornaday (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) is in fourth, 58 points behind Riggs while Brian Vickers (No. 5 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet), who claimed his first career NASCAR Busch Series win last week at Indianapolis Raceway Park, lurks in fifth place.

What they wrote ... about IRP ...

Last Saturday's race at IRP -- the first NASCAR Busch Series win for 19-year-old Brian Vickers -- was one of the most exciting in the recent history of each of NASCAR's three national series. Here are a few thoughts on the race from some of the media on hand at IRP:

The record book will never be able to do this year's edition of the Kroger 200 justice. It'll record the bare facts, the numbers. But what it won't show will be the amazing showdown between 19-year-old Brian Vickers and 23-year-old Shane Hmiel, with Jason Keller and Scott Wimmer locked in mortal combat right behind them. ... The record book won't show the lead group of Hmiel, Vickers, Keller and Wimmer in a tight, gnarly pack, and at times, two by two. It won't show them catching lapped traffic at exactly the wrong time, bottling them up, and creating all kinds of havoc. ... So, no, there's no way anyone will ever be able to tell what really happened in this race simply by reading the record book. What a shame. This was one for the ages. -- Rick Houston, Winston Cup Scene

Brian Vickers pecked at Shane Hmiel's bumper all night before making the decisive pass on lap 181, then held on to win the Kroger 200 on Saturday night for his first career Busch Series victory. ... Vickers, who entered fifth on the Busch Series points race, started third in the 200-lap race and spent most of it in Hmiel's rearview mirror. ... Hmiel and Vickers practically ran side-by-side for most of the last 30 laps, thrilling the crowd at Indianapolis Raceway Park. -- Dan Gelston, Associated Press

Close no more. Brian Vickers earned his first NASCAR Busch Series victory Saturday night following a wild side-by-side battle with Shane Hmiel -- a confrontation featuring two drivers 23 years old and younger and both searching for their first series win. -- Jim Utter, Knight Ridder

Earlier this week, Kasey Kahne was in Anderson, Ind., for a midget-car race. Tonight he will be at Indianapolis Raceway Park for the NASCAR Busch Series race. Next week, he'll head to Eldora (Ohio) for a sprint-car event. ... The Kroger 200 at IRP represents what Kahne said he hopes will be his future -- NASCAR. The other races are symbolic of his past -- grassroots-level open-wheel racing. -- Jeff Rabjohns, Indianapolis Star-Telegram


Paul Menard (No. 55 Turtle Wax/Menards/Pitbull Chevrolet) placed ninth at IRP last Saturday, his first career NASCAR Busch Series top-10 finish. Menard has top-10 finishes in all three series in which he has competed this year -- NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck and ARCA. Menard will attempt to qualify for his first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Watkins Glen Friday driving the No. 33 Turtle Wax Chevrolet. ... NASCAR Busch Series leader Scott Riggs will be honored with "Scott Riggs Night" at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway on Friday where he will act as Grand Marshall for NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series racing events that evening. Riggs, a native of Bahama, N.C., ran at Orange County during the early stages of his career. ... While the NASCAR Busch Series has the weekend off, Raybestos rookie Joey Clanton (No. 27 TrimSpa Pontiac) has been hard at work. Clanton and his team tested at Bristol Motor Speedway Monday and Tuesday, then at Darlington for a one-day test. Following the tests, Clanton was off to Michigan International Speedway for a media day with Brewco Motorsports teammate David Green.

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bobby Labonte , Todd Bodine , Jason Keller , Joe Nemechek , Ron Hornaday Jr. , David Green , Scott Riggs , Shane Hmiel , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Steve Grissom , Brian Vickers , Paul Menard , Joey Clanton