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Busch cited for reckless driving

By BRANT JAMES
Published November 13, 2005


AVONDALE, Ariz. - Defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch was stopped Friday night near Phoenix International Raceway, detained on suspicion of drunken driving and released with a citation for criminal reckless driving.

Lt. Paul Chagolla, a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman, told the Associated Press that Busch was taken to the Sheriff Office's command center at the track for a Breathalyzer test after he refused a field sobriety test, but the machine malfunctioned. Busch did submit to a field breath alcohol test, disclosing the presence of alcohol.

Busch was seen traveling 60 mph in a 45 mph zone and ran a stop sign while attempting to avoid another car when he was pursued by police. According to Chagolla, Busch was argumentative and uncooperative.

"I regret the incident that occurred. ... It is important to understand that this citation is not alcohol related," Busch said in a statement Saturday night. "I want to apologize to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department for my actions."

Team-owner Jack Roush said, "it would be an issue for (sponsor) Crown Royal, for sure," if Busch were charged with drunken driving, but because Busch is leaving for Penske Racing South after this season "it is none of my affair."

SECOND CHANCE: Jimmie Johnson knows what second place feels like all too well. Second in the current driver points standings, 38 behind Tony Stewart, and a runnerup in the final standings the past two seasons, the 30-year-old realizes his championship window is not going to stay open forever. That's why, he has said repeatedly, "it's go time."'

"You don't know how long a team is going to stay in championship form and how everything is going to be," he said. "It's so tough in our sport. I feel blessed. The worst I've been is fifth in the points, second the past two years. And we need to take advantage of this chance being as close to the championship. I know it, (crew chief) Chad ( Knaus) knows it, the guys know it and we're set on it."

Johnson won four of the last six races in 2004 but finished second by eight points to Busch in the closest margin in NASCAR history.

"Last year I learned a lot of lessons," Johnson said. "One was that you do all you can. I made some mistakes last year in the car - letting the pressure get to me too early, I crashed a car at Kansas - trying to make something of a bad day. If I would have just finished that race in 20th position where I was running at the time, I would have easily made up the eight points and it would have been a different championship."

UP THE LADDER: Denny Hamlin's rapid ascent continues. The Brandon-born 24-year-old, announced last week as the new full-time driver of Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 11 Chevrolet, won his first Nextel Cup pole for today's Checker Auto Parts 500.

"It's happened so fast for me that it's really been tough to sink it all in," Hamlin said after covering the mile track at 134.173 mph.

Johnson qualified second, with Carl Edwards (third in points) third and Stewart ninth.

In registering his best Nextel Cup finish (seventh) and third top 10 in five Nextel Cup starts last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin impressed a tough critic in Stewart.

"He doesn't even realize his potential yet," Stewart said. "But he's definitely somebody who's going to make a big name for himself there for sure."

Hamlin, who has relatives in Brandon, moved to Chesterfield, Va., at age 2 when his father, Dennis, was transferred by his employer. His mother, Mary Lou, grew up in Palma Ceia and attended Robinson High.

NEW RIDE: J.J. Yeley, a 29-year-old Phoenix native, was named the replacement for Bobby Labonte in JGR's No. 18 Chevrolet Nextel Cup entry for 2006. Labonte was released from his contract three years early to replace Jeff Green in the No. 43 Dodge at Petty Enterprises.

Yeley also will run from 22 races to a full season in the Busch series. The former sprint car champion has never won in NASCAR's top three series.