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Bliss squeezes out SpongeBob win

By wire services
Published October 16, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. - Mike Bliss used a gutsy three-wide pass to take the lead, then held off a charging Matt Kenseth over the final laps to win his first Busch series race Friday night.

Bliss sat back and watched a side-by-side battle between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson when the SpongeBob Square Pants Movie 300 restarted with 19 laps to go.

As Kenseth and Johnson fought for the lead, Bliss pulled up next to them and coasted by in a three-wide pass coming out of Turn 4. He took a sizable lead as Kenseth and Johnson continued to race each other.

Bliss would have coasted to victory, but Dave Blaney wrecked 14 laps from the finish to bring out a record-tying 12th caution.

The race restarted with 11 laps to go with Bliss leading, Kenseth second and Johnson in third. The three fanned out in a single file line, and Bliss held off Kenseth over the final two laps for his first series victory in 70 tries.

"I didn't care about second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth," Bliss said. "I wanted to win. I just drove my heart out."

The victory was special for Bliss, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing but has been told he won't be back next season.

"I don't want to go anywhere. I love these guys," he said, motioning to his team.

INDYCARS: Helio Castroneves tied an IRL record by winning a fourth consecutive pole in qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. "Four in a row, it's just awesome," the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said after matching Billy Boat's 5-year-old record. Castroneves had a lap of 215.996 mph on the 11/2-mile track. The pole for Sunday's season-ending Chevy 500 was the fifth this year and 16th overall for Castroneves. The Brazilian edged Tomas Scheckter, who turned a lap of 215.831.

TRUCKS: Mike Skinner extended Toyota's streak of poles to three with a record-breaking run in Fort Worth, Texas. But a prequalifying engine change will force Skinner to move to the back of the 36-truck field for today's Silverado 350K. The top spot was the second this season and 17th of Skinner's Trucks career. His fast lap of 182.174 mph broke Scott Riggs' 3-year-old qualifying record of 181.953. Shane Hmiel was second at 182.051 in a Chevrolet. Bill Lester, who qualified third in another Toyota, will move into Skinner's vacated spot.

AMERICAN LE MANS: Nicolas Minassian surprised the series regulars by winning the pole for today's season-ending event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The Frenchman turned a lap in 1:15.893 on the 2.238-mile road racing circuit to win the pole in his second race.

IN LIEU OF PAYMENT: Lowe's Motor Speedway is holding several pieces of the American Speed Association's safety and race equipment until the series reimburses the Concord, N.C., track for the purse money from Friday's race. The series had insufficient funds to pay the purse and has asked for an extension. Track officials used maintenance equipment to trap the ASA machinery in the infield after the race.

Times staff writer Brant James contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 16, 2004, 01:01:20]


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