RACING ONE: Keller survives for Busch win

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For race fans who want news 24-7, on Lycos and are now offering NASCAR news and results direct to your wireless device! Michael Waltrip and Jimmy Spencer weren't the least bit amused about it. Randy LaJoie referred to it as a "damn pinball game." "The Big Wreck," which everybody anticipates in races at Talladega Superspeedway, was indeed was a big one Saturday, one that involved 27 cars on Lap 14 and marred Jason Keller's victory in the Busch Series Aaron's 312. Only four cars finished on the lead lap. Stacy Compton finished second, followed by a distant Tim Fedewa, Todd Bodine, Casey Mears, Andy Kirby, Jimmy Kitchens, Larry Foyt, Kenny Wallace and Hank Parker Jr. Keller's previous best finish at Talladega was 11th. It was his second victory of the season, with his first coming at Rockingham. Only 10 minutes into the race, the huge pack of cars was coming off Turn 2 when Shane Hmeil got into the back of Scott Riggs, causing a chain reaction of cars slamming into each other. Johnny Sauter's No. 2 Chevy went airborne, flipping down the backstretch. Mike McLaughlin's car also went airborne, and by the time the smoke settled on the backstretch, it looked like a complete junkyard. Cars involved in the melee were those of Hmeil, Riggs, Johnny Sauter, Tim Sauter, Jay Sauter, Kerry Earnhardt, Jamie McMurray, Randy LaJoie, McLaughlin, Greg Biffle, Mike Harmon, Lyndon Amick, Joe Ruttman, Tony Raines, Joe Nemechek, Jack Sprague, Jimmy Spencer, Scott Wimmer, Coy Gibbs, Michael Waltrip, Ron Hornaday, Jeff Fuller, Ashton Lewis, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Shane Hall and Mike Wallace. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, as every driver who came into the infield care center emerged unscathed. Harmon was the only one who was treated, getting two stitches in his tongue. Riggs said he was racing hard with the No. 48 Pontiac of Kenny Wallace, and when he checked up to avoid him, Hmeil hit him from behind. "It was just a chain reaction," said Riggs, making his first ever start at Talladega Superspeedway. "When you run this close together, things like that are going to happen. Kenny (Wallace) started to block me, and he came up and got into me. I checked up a bit, and Shane (Hmeil) said he tried to check up. He hit me and that just turned me into everybody." "Me and the 10 (Riggs) were racing pretty good, and the 48 (Wallace) moved up on him," said Hmeil, also making his first career start at Talladega. The 10 lost his nose, and we had to check up, then everybody got into the back of us. People probably think it was our fault, but it wasn't. This really stinks. Our car was really good. Everybody waits for the big one, and it happened. When you check up at 180 mph, things start happening fast." Johnny Sauter was all smiles after coming out of the infield care center. "I really don't know what happened," the pole sitter said. "That's the first time I've ever been on my hood before. I didn't know this would turn into a sprint car race." Some of the veterans didn't find it so amusing. "All hell broke loose," LaJoie said. "I saw the 10 car get sideways, and it just became a damn pinball game. We were just riding around out there. It's not the restrictor plates that cause this, is the guys holding the steering wheel. They don't respect you on the short tracks, and they sure as hell don't respect you on the speedways." Sauter's car wound up on top of Waltrip's No. 99 Chevy. "I didn't see much, I just saw everybody wrecking," Waltrip said. "I had a hole that I was hoping to get through and I figured the hole would close up, but I didn't know it would close up from above. A car just came down on me from the air. They blame it on the plates, but I'd just as soon blame it on the drivers. There was some human error there, for sure." In all, 19 cars were taken out of the race as a result of the accident. The red flag was thrown, and the race was delayed for 40 minutes until the debris was cleaned up. When the yellow was shown and the cars re-fired, only 13 cars crossed the finish line. After the big wreck, it was basically a three-car race between Keller, Compton and Wallace. The three pulled away from the other 10 cars easily. Several cars made their way back onto the track in an attempt to gain points, but Keller and Compton were clearly had the dominant two machines. Wallace faded in the final 20 laps when, after a re-start, he got caught behind the lapped car of Todd Bodine and lost ground to Keller and Compton. Wallace's Chevy developed engine problems and he was eventually black-flagged by NASCAR. Wallace wound up ninth. Compton tried several times in the final 10 laps to overtake Keller, but couldn't find his way past's Keller's Ford.

Practice accidents

Steve Park, Bobby Hamilton and Mike Wallace were all involved in accidents during Saturday morning's first Winston Cup Series practice. All will be forced to go to back-up cars for Sunday's Aaron's 499. Park reported that he ran over debris, which he believed to be the top of a shock from the No. 30 Chevy of Jeff Green, That caused the right rear tire to fail, causing the crash. Park was taken to the infield care center for a mandatory check over, and was released minutes later. "I feel fine, but we're just really disappointed right now," said Park, who qualified ninth on Friday afternoon. "The Pennzoil Chevy was running really well out there. I was going into the turn, and all of a sudden I just felt the tire go. We had such a great qualifying run, now with the back-up car we'll have to start at the rear of the field. It's really a shame." Hamilton won't lose ground on Sunday as he was to start 43rd anyway. Wallace, on the other hand, qualified 18th for the Aaron's 499 on Friday. The two Andy Petree Racing cars were taken out in the same accident. "The 33 was spinning in front of me, so I went high," Hamilton said. "There was a car up there, so to miss him I ducked down low to try to get away from him. The 33 came across the track at that time. I saw him hit the brakes to try to stop. He just clipped the whole side of the car. It was really a hard hit." "That's just the way it goes sometimes," Petree said. "This sport can really beat you down. It's not a very good day for us, but none of the drivers got hurt; that's the main thing. We try to keep all this in perspective. Compared to what Jack Roush is fighting today, our problems are pretty minor."

Ward Burton tops in Happy Hour

Ward Burton topped all drivers in the final Winston Cup Series practice on Saturday. The driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge ran a fast lap of 194.046 mph. Mark Martin was second fastest, followed by Kurt Busch, Ricky Rudd, Robby Gordon, Sterling Marlin, John Andretti, Bobby Labonte, Park and Jimmy Spencer.
Tagged: Kurt Busch

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