Hamilton Jr. powers U.S. Marines-backed
By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (June 2003) Sitting behind the wheel of the fastest car on the track, Bobby Hamilton Jr. was beginning to sense a victory early June 14 in the NASCAR Busch Series' "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" at the Kentucky Speedway.
But a miscue on a pit stop on Lap 86 resulted in a stop-and-go pit stop penalty, sending Hamilton from first to 13th. Suddenly, the smell of victory turned into frustration when a crew member spun off a lug nut while changing a tire. Hamilton was forced to give up the lead to pit again to correct the problem.
Then with only 36 laps to go, leaders Scott Riggs and Ron Hornaday Jr. made contact, sending Riggs spinning out of control and causing a six-car crash that ended Riggs' hopes of a second consecutive Busch Series victory. Hamilton took advantage of the situation and, trailing only Jason Keller and Hornaday with 25 laps remaining passed Hornaday and set his sights on Keller. His chance came on Lap 198 when Keller got caught behind lapped traffic on the high side of Turn 1. Hamilton sped under him to take the lead and hold on for the final three laps and the victory before a sellout crowd of 69,366.
"I kept working on the 57 (Keller) high and just kept digging. The longer we ran the faster we got. Once I got into open air, I just moved," said Hamilton Jr., 25, who earned $95,270 in what was the series' second-biggest purse in a standalone Busch event.
Rain clouds threatened to put an early end to the 43-car event as the pre-race festivities began. A light rain fell briefly but dissipated, giving way to blue skies by the time the green flag dropped. Hamilton took the lead from pole-sitter Stacy Compton at the start and held it for the first 66 laps until he pitted for tires and fuel. He regained the lead for laps 70-87 when the other leaders pitted.
Hornaday Jr. later said of the incident, "I was already by him, and all I saw was smoke behind me. It was hard racing. He did what he had to do to make the pass on the restart, and I did what I had to do to get by him."