Busch's Chances Go Up in Smoke

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kyle Busch found out Friday that if you're too young to smoke cigarettes, you're also too young to drive in a cigarette-sponsored race weekend.

Busch, 16, has driven in six NASCAR Craftsman Truck races this season and was the fastest driver in morning practice at California Speedway before Max Jones, team manager for Jack Roush's Fords, was notified that his driver could not participate in today's Auto Club 200 truck race.

"We didn't know anything about it until five minutes before Kyle was to qualify," Jones said. "The car was going through the line on the grid."

Busch's practice lap of 175.387 mph was more than a mile an hour faster than Scott Riggs' pole-sitting 173.678 speed in a Dodge.

"It's just an unfortunate thing--it was out of my control--but we're going for next year," said Busch, youngest in a Las Vegas racing family. His brother, Kurt, is running Winston Cup this year for Roush.

"We planned on running seven races this year, but it looks like we'll only be running in six.

"We were on top of the sheets in practice and we were looking forward to qualifying, and right before we went out, we got turned down. So, we're going to Daytona right now, and looking towards next season."

The ruling was not made by NASCAR, but by the speedway and Marlboro, title sponsor of the weekend activities.

"This is an issue relating to our agreement with our sponsor," said Bill Miller, speedway president. "The age of an entrant for Saturday's race was an issue and its complexities are open to interpretation, but the issue was too complicated to settle in a short time. We appreciate the understanding of Jack Roush and Roush Racing on this matter."

Tim Woods III, who had practiced in a truck sponsored by his family's own Chino Hills Ford dealership, was offered Busch's ride in the No. 99 truck and qualified 33rd at 164.839.

"I just wanted to get in a comfortable lap and get kinda comfortable with the truck," said Woods, an African American driver from Chino Hills. "I didn't want to go out on the first lap and tear up one of Mr. Roush's trucks, so we didn't do that. We got a comfortable lap in, but we have to pick it up some."

Jones said that Woods was at a disadvantage because the seat was too small and he had never practiced in the truck before being sent out to qualify on the 2-mile D-shaped oval, the longest track he had ever driven.

"Tim is somebody that we've been watching for a long time and we've been trying to help him," Jones said. "We've been helping him with his Winston West program and when we had no other choice but to remove Kyle from the vehicle, we went over and asked Tim if he would rather drive our truck than his.

"He was already here trying to qualify his truck, and he jumped at the opportunity to drive the 99 and help us ... get that truck in the show."

The truck is the one Greg Biffle drove to victory last Saturday in Phoenix. In six races, Busch's best finishes have been a pair of ninths.

Jack Sprague will clinch his third Craftsman Truck championship when he takes the green flag in today's Auto Club 200, even if he fails to finish a lap.

Kenny Brack, former Indianapolis 500 winner making his last start with Team Rahal in a Ford Cosworth-powered Lola, was fastest of the CART drivers in practice. He turned a lap at 230.597 mph after earlier crashing his backup car in a third-turn accident when he skidded on an oil slick.

Brack has already announced that he will drive for Chip Ganassi next year.

Christian Fittipaldi, last year's winner of the $1 million Marlboro 500, was only 15th fastest in a Lola-Toyota but indicated he was pleased with the car's performance.

"We are going with the same game plan like last year and aren't overdoing it," Fittipaldi said. "We don't want to push too hard and risk forcing something bad to happen. I'm really happy with the car in race trim."

With the CART season ending with Sunday's race, Fittipaldi will try something new next week, driving in the Busch Grand National race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"It is something completely different from what I'm used to," the Brazilian driver said. "NASCAR is definitely very big and it's something I've been watching on television for a long time."

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Race Schedules

Marlboro 500

When: Today, qualifying, 11:15 a.m. (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. today); Sunday: race (ESPN, 12:30 p.m.)

Where: California Speedway (D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 14-degree banking in turns), Fontana.

Race distance: 500 miles, 250 laps.

Last year: Christian Fittipaldi won in a race delayed by rain, and Gil de Ferran finished third to win the closest points chase in CART history. They were among only six drivers running at the end after blown engines and other mechanical problems reduced the field of 23 cars. The race was halted Sunday and completed Monday.

On the net: www.cart.com.2

*

Craftsman 200

When: Today, qualifying, noon; Saturday, race (ESPN, 1:30 p.m.).

Distance: 200 miles, 100 laps.

Last year: Kurt Busch beat Andy Houston by 0.775 seconds to win for the fourth time in the season. Busch set a series record with an average speed of 144.260 mph.

On the net: www.nascar.com.

*

Dayton Indy Lights 100

When: Today, qualifying, 10 a.m.; Sunday, race, 10:15 a.m. (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m.)

Distance: 100 miles, 50 laps.

Last year: Scott Dixon set a series record with an average speed of 183.672 mph.

On the net: www.indylights.com.

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