News & Media

Aumann: Bristol '02 exciting chapter in Busch-Spencer feud

March 15, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Series of incidents in same race land Junior, Robby Gordon in NASCAR hauler

Jimmy Spencer never forgets. Apparently, neither does Kurt Busch.

Ten years ago, Busch put the bumper to Spencer at Bristol Motor Speedway -- in what he deemed payback for an incident at Phoenix the previous season -- to shove Spencer's car out of his way. It was an aggressive move that paid off in Busch's first of five wins at the half-mile bullring in the east Tennessee mountains.

"I made a better person out of Kurt by punching him, but I also know I shouldn't have touched him. I've been in many brawls and nobody benefits from it."


Even now, thinking about the late stages of the 2002 Food City 500 puts a smile on Busch's face and a twinkle in his eye.

"To make it in the big time and to win, and to move Jimmy Spencer out of the way while I did it, that's a big memory," Busch said at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend. "You work so hard to get to the big time, and then to win at the big time, that makes you feel like you've made it."

And the way Busch did it -- with more than a touch of revenge on his mind -- stands out as one of the most memorable moments in recent Bristol history.

Busch and Spencer stayed out when leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. pitted under caution with 90 laps to go, setting up a two-car battle at the front of the field. And what a battle it turned out to be.

On Lap 444, Spencer worked on Busch's left-rear fender, giving him enough of a nudge to get by as the two cars exited Turn 4. But Busch was having none of that. He immediately put the bumper of his Ford squarely into the back of Spencer's Dodge as they entered Turn 1.

Busch muscled Spencer out of the way, and as Spencer fought to regain control of his car, Busch pulled away to a commanding lead. With more than 150 laps on his tires, Spencer could do nothing but watch Busch take the checkered flag some 1.556 seconds ahead of him.

Spencer was livid after the race, telling his crew on the radio, "We won't forget what happened today." And he wasn't much calmer by the time he spoke with the media.

"When racing for victories or top-fives, you have to respect the leaders," Spencer said. "When you don't, it will come back to haunt you. I didn't do that to him and he shouldn't have done it to me."

But Busch was having none of that. To him, the rough driving not only was a product of Bristol racing, but a payback for previous grievances.

"We were racing in eighth place at Phoenix, trying to salvage a season," Busch said after his Victory Lane celebration. "I worked on him for five laps trying to get by him. He dumped me flat-out, and I got drilled by Ryan Newman and almost got pinched in the car."

That was definitely not the end of the feud between the two drivers. Spencer wound up serving a one-week suspension and paying a $25,000 fine for punching Busch in the face at Michigan in 2003.

In an interview last summer with Scene Daily's Kenny Bruce, Spencer said he learned a valuable lesson -- and felt that Busch did, as well.

"I made a better person out of Kurt by punching him, but I also know I shouldn't have touched him," Spencer said. "I've been in many brawls and nobody benefits from it. Kurt learned his lesson but so did I and, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have hit him."

Busch certainly got the best of Spencer on the track, if not as a pugilist. While Busch went on to win three more times in 2002 -- and a total of 24 to this point -- Spencer never again made the turn into the winner's circle before hanging up his helmet in 2006.

Busch might not miss the off-track fisticuffs, but he certainly laments a unique form of racing that no longer exists at Bristol.

"The old concrete configuration was rough, tough and meaner," Busch said. "That's where I had most of my wins. The new configuration is smooth, it's wider and it seems more generous, so you don't see the rougher and tougher attitude.

"The most challenging aspect of Bristol is getting into those long green-flag runs, making the best lap times that you can, because you can get pretty dizzy there real quick."

The Busch-Spencer spat actually played second fiddle to the war of words between Earnhardt and Robby Gordon after Gordon dumped Earnhardt on the cool-down lap. The two had bumped and banged each other several times during the race.

"He was a moving chicane," Earnhardt said. "He wouldn't get out of the way. A lap down, racing the leader with 10 laps to go. That's why it takes three or four times to get into the Winston Cup Series because he doesn't pay attention and don't know what he's doing."

Gordon claimed the whole thing stemmed from a tiff earlier in the day.

"I didn't quite understand why he did that so early in the race," Gordon said. "And I didn't understand why after the race, he ran into me, too," Gordon said. "I don't know what I did to make him mad, but hey, nobody runs into me."

Both drivers and their car owners were called to the NASCAR hauler after to talk it over. For Richard Childress (Gordon was driving RCR's No. 31 Chevrolet at the time), it was déjà vu, having had to make the same visit the previous day when Kevin Harvick leaped into a face-to-face, post-race staredown with Greg Biffle after the Busch Series race -- landing all parties in the series trailer.