Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003 | 9:33 a.m.
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.
You know things have not been going well lately for Kurt Busch when he called his eighth-place finish Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway a "great finish."
Busch, who has struggled the past two months, earned only his second top-10 Winston Cup finish since his victory Aug. 23 at Bristol Motor Speedway. His finish on Monday in Atlanta snapped a streak of three consecutive races in which Busch failed to finish.
"It's a great finish for our team, and to try to get us back in the top 10 in points," Busch said. "It just seemed like we didn't have anything for the Chevys; we couldn't do anything.
"We were first in class today and we'll just have to take it to a short track like Phoenix and Rockingham, and hopefully by Homestead, we'll have another car built that can hang with those guys."
Busch, who fell out of the top 10 in points two weeks ago, remained 11th in points after Monday's race, but trails 10th-place Terry Labonte by only 26 points with three races remaining. After 33 races last year, Busch was sixth in points.
Busch was the highest-finishing Ford driver in Monday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, which was suspended Sunday after 39 laps and completed Monday. Chevrolet swept the top three spots with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Chevy and Dodge took the top seven spots in the race.
Before Gordon's victory Monday, Busch had been the last driver to win back-to-back races, winning at Martinsville Speedway and Atlanta late last season.
Harvick trailed Kenseth by 240 points going into the Atlanta race but finished 20th Monday and slipped to third in the standings, 262 points behind the leader.
"It's over," was Harvick's only comment after the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished sixth Monday, moved into second in the standings, 258 points behind Kenseth with three races remaining. Earnhardt, unlike Harvick, remained optimistic about his chances in the title chase.
"We gained some on Matt," Earnhardt said. "We'll just keep gaining until we can't gain any more."
Only 33 points separate Lynch, Mike Duncan and Steve Portenga in the series standings after 12 of 13 races. Lynch, who drives a Dodge prepared by Orleans Racing of Las Vegas, holds a 14-point lead over Duncan and a 33-point advantage over Portenga going into Saturday's 100-lap race on the 2-mile oval.
Lynch, 23, has a series-leading three victories and 10 top-10 finishes in 12 races this season.
In 1996, Lance Hooper of Palmdale, Calif., became the first driver to win the Winston West championship in his rookie season.
Mark Ith Jr. of West Valley, Utah, won the 40-lap IMCA Modifieds main event and Troy Decuir of Riverside, Calif., won the 99-lap main event for Mechanix Wear Speed Trucks.