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More sparks may fly at Bristol

Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer have given NASCAR one of its liveliest feuds in years.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002

Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer have given NASCAR one of its liveliest feuds in years.

They say it's over.

Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer, NASCAR's oddest couple always at odds, had a nice little chat with NASCAR officials two weeks ago in which the drivers were encouraged to play nice together.

No more feuding.

"What's in the past is in the past," Busch said.

Yeah, right. This is Bristol. Even family members get mad at one another under the lights on this high-banked, half-mile track. What chance do Busch and Spencer, who flat don't like each other, have of making it 500 laps without so much as rubbing a fender?

Bristol is where five months ago Busch bumped Spencer out of the lead with 45 laps left for his first Winston Cup victory. Ol' ramrod Spencer took offense. After years of wrecking his competitors -- they don't call him Mr. Excitement for nothing -- Spencer deemed Busch's tactics out of line.

He hasn't changed his mind.

"I got pushed out of the way so a guy could win the race," Spencer said recently. "There's been a lot of fault with that particular car with a lot of drivers in the garage area, not just me. ... He'll learn. Without question, NASCAR will send him to the principal's office more than once."

Busch said the Bristol bump merely made the drivers even for an incident last season at Phoenix, where Spencer was a lapped car and dumped Busch's No. 97 Ford out of the top 10. They've been paying debts to each other ever since, giving NASCAR one of its spiciest spats in years.

This month at the Brickyard 400, Spencer spun Busch into the wall in what appeared to be a retaliatory bumper smooch. When the field came by under caution, Busch gestured at Spencer and later, in a live television interview, called Spencer a "decrepit has-been" with "the brain of a peanut."

Good stuff, huh?

"I think that kind of thing adds to the sport," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of the long-running conflict. "I know it's fun for the fans. Sometimes, NASCAR can be a little too perfect, a little too slick. So some genuine emotion from the drivers is a good thing. I think it's a big reason the fans really look forward to this race."

Two years ago, after the Bristol night race, Tony Stewart rammed Jeff Gordon's car on pit road. This spring, Earnhardt and Robby Gordon made contact several times during the race. When it was over, Earnhardt grazed Gordon's car on pit road and Gordon responded by spinning out Earnhardt. But those were isolated incidents.

The animosity between Busch and Spencer festers.

In addition to their on-track differences, Busch and Spencer are dissimilar in nearly every way. Spencer, 45, is a 6-foot, 230-pound former high school football player from Pennsylvania. Busch, 24, looks like the kid who rarely made it to lunch with his milk money. The sharp-tongued Las Vegas native is 5 feet 11, 150 pounds.

But he doesn't back down.

And it gets him in trouble.

In May, Busch tried to be a little too clever, saying he intentionally spun Robby Gordon to bring out a late caution at the Winston all-star race. The comment cost him a $10,000 fine. In July at Daytona, Busch was held one lap for a pit-road violation, then for three more for verbally abusing a NASCAR official on his team's radio.

Remarkably, neither Spencer nor Busch has been penalized for his actions, or insults, toward the other. Yet. So, what will happen if, in the closing laps tonight at Bristol, Busch finds himself on Spencer's rear bumper with a chance to win?

"I'd obviously have to watch myself, but there was nothing wrong with what I did last time," Busch said. "So, if I do it again, I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

"NASCAR might think there's something wrong with it, so obviously we've got to mind our P's and Q's around the 41 car, which is pathetic because we shouldn't have to be put in that position."

Nope, no hard feelings there.

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