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Patriotic Pass

Hamilton Jr. powers U.S. Marines-backed
car to victory in 'Meijer 300'

By Don Ward
Editor

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.

Bobby Hamilton Jr. wins

Photo by Don Ward

Bobby Hamilton Jr. (center) and crew
celebrate their June 14 victory.

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.
"If you were listening to my radio chatter, it was like, 'Don't worry,' " Hamilton's perseverance paid off. He slowly worked his way back toward the front and was in third place within 10 laps of the penalty stop.

Busch Series crowd

Photo by Don Ward

A sellout crowd watches the Busch race.

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.
It was Hamilton's first trip to victory lane this season – second of his career – and his fourth consecutive top-six Busch Series finish.

Earnhardt, Atwood

Photo by Don Ward

From left, Kerry Earnhardt & Casey
Atwood prior to the "Meijer 300."

"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.
Keller collected $69,725 for his second-place finish. Hornaday earned $51,860 for third. Riggs, the points leader after winning the previous week in Nashville, was able to retool his damaged car and finish the race, placing 30th. Owensboro, Ky., native David Green started third and finished eighth. Kentucky's defending Busch Series champion Todd Bodine started 14th and finished 29th.

Terry Bradshaw

Photo by Don Ward

Terry Bradshaw is introduced to the Busch crowd.

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.
The first yellow caution flag didn't appear until Lap 86 when Randy LaJoie lost his transmission in Turn 1, leaving oil on the track that had to be cleaned up. The entire field pitted. Hamilton pitted to take four tires and fuel, but a lug nut spun off the wheel just before he pulled away. The mandatory second pit stop put him behind the 12 lead cars as he returned to the track on Lap 89. Up until that point in the race, Hamilton had averaged 1 mph faster than the other cars.
"I knew we had a good car. I just got back out there and got back to second and kept riding," Hamilton said."
Harold Holly, Hamilton's newly hired crew chief, said of the pit stop incident, "It's a pretty pressured situation down there, and these guys have got to get used to things like that. He (the crew member) made an attempt to get the lug nut, and it spun off. He stepped up and nailed it the next time."
Riggs, meanwhile, appeared to be headed for his second checkered flag in as many weeks, but he wound up on the losing end of a tight battle for the lead with Hornaday Jr. on Lap 165. Riggs' car got loose in Turn 4 and spun sideways, causing several collisions and cars hitting the wall or the grassy infield to avoid additional crashes. Regan Smith and Mike Bliss' cars hit the wall, and Brian Vickers' car slammed into the left front side of Riggs' Ford. Riggs went to the garage for repairs and later re-entered the race.

NASCAR Busch Series'
"Meijer 300 Presented
by Oreo" Results

June 14 at the Kentucky Speedway
Sparta, Ky.
Fin., Start, Driver, Car, Laps, Status
1. 2 Bobby Hamilton Jr., Ford, 200, Running
2. 15 Jason Keller, Ford, 200, Running
3. 4 Ron Hornaday Jr., Chev., 200, Running
4. 1 Stacy Compton, Chev., 200, Running
5. 10 Scott Wimmer, Chev., 200, Running
6. 19 Brian Vickers, Chev., 200, Running
7. 13 Ashton Lewis Jr., Chev., 200, Running
8. 3 David Green, Pontiac, 200 Running
9. 16 Casey Atwood, Chev., 200, Running
10. 8 David Stemme*, Dodge, 200, Running
11. 7 Kasey Kahne, Ford, 199, Running
12. 22 Wally Dallenbach Jr., Ford, 199, Running
13. 25 Mike Wallace, Chev., 199, Running
14. 17 Paul Menard, Chev., 198, running
15. 35 Coy Gibbs*, Chev., 197, Running
16. 37 Joey Clanton*, Pontiac, 197, Running
17. 12 Johnny Sauter, Chev., 197, Running
18. 31 Lance Norick, Dodge, 196, Running
19. 6 Shane Hmiel, Chev., 196, Running
20. 43 Ron Young, Chev., 195, Running
21. 21 Martin Truex Jr., Chev., 194, Running
22. 23 Gus Wasson, Chev., 192
23. 40 Larry Gunselman, Chev., 192, Running
24. 30 Steadman Marlin, Dodge, 191, Running
25. 41 Jason White*, Chev., 191
26. 33 Dwayne Lcik, Chev., 191
27. 36 Kennt Hendrick, Chev., 189
28. 34 Shane Hall, Ford, 184
29. 14 Todd Bodine, Chev., 179, Running
30. 5 Scott Riggs, Ford, 174, Running
31. 11 Mike BLiss, Chev., 164, Accident
32. 38 Regan Smith*, Chev., 160, Accident
33. 39 Brad Teague, Ford, 149, Accident
34. 27 Kerry Earnhardt, Chev., 139, Accident
35. 20 Mike Harmon, Chev., 139, Accident
36. 42 Jason Schuler, Ford, 124, Accident
37. 9 David Reutimann, Chev., 87, Engine
38. 18 Randy LaJoie, Chev., 79, Engine
39. 32 Tim Sauter, Chev., 63, Engine
40. 24 Jay Sauter, Chev., 41, Vibration
41. 28 Jeff Streeter, Chev., 28 Engine
42. 26 Morgan Shepherd, Chev., 9 Vibration
43. 29 Jimmy Kitchens, Pontiac, 3, Overheating
* = Denotes rookie

Lap leaders: S. Compton (Pole winner), B. Hamilton Jr. 1-66, R. Hornaday Jr. 67-68, J. Sauter 69, B. Hamilton Jr. 70-87, R. Hornaday Jr. 88-107, S. Riggs 108-145, B. Hamilton Jr. 146, S. Riggs 147-153, R. Hornaday Jr. 154-155, S. Riggs 156-164, R. Hornaday Jr. 165-173, J. Keller 174-197, B. Hamilton Jr. 198-200.
Ave. Speed = 136.123 mph. Lead changes = 13 among 5 drivers. Time of race = 2 hours, 12 minutes, 14 seconds. Cautions = 4 for 25 laps. Margin of victory = 0.488 seconds. Attendance = 69, 366.
Busch Series Point Standings
As of June 14:
1. David Green
2. Scott Riggs
3. Todd Bodine
4. Ron Hornaday Jr.
5. Jason Keller
6. Brian Vickers
7. Bobby Hamilton Jr.
8. Mike Bliss
9. Johny Sauter
10. Scott Wimmer
11. Shane Hmiel
12. Kasey Kahne
13. Stacy Compton
14. Mike Wallace
15. Ashton Lewis Jr.
16. Coy Gibbs
17. Randy LaJoie
18. Stanton Barrett
19. Kerry Earnhardt
20. Kevin Grubb

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."
Hamilton said of Riggs' fate," It was just one less car to compete with."
Hamilton had plenty of time to run down leaders Hornaday and Keller from the restart on Lap 172. Keller and Hamilton passed Hornaday in the final laps, then Hamilton waited for the chance to make his final move for the lead.
Afterward, Hamilton credited Holly for his Team Marines Ford victory, which was only Hamilton's second Busch triumph since winning at Loudon on May 11, 2002.
"He gets the car running so good in bad air or good air. Whatever I do, it runs so good," said Hamilton Jr., a Nashville, Tenn., native and the son of NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton.
Holly, the 2000 Busch Series championship crew chief, has built an impressive resume while working previously with drivers Jeff Green and Riggs. Holly joined Hamilton's Team Rensi Motorsports organization just two weeks prior to the Sparta race, and Hamilton said the results have been instant for the U.S. Marines-sponsored car. The team placed sixth at Dover and nearly won in Nashville with Holly at the helm.
"I told the Marines if you get me Harold Holly as the crew chief, I'll deliver to you a championship," said Hamilton, now in his fourth Busch Series season after finishing eighth in points last year. "Everybody on our team believes in everything he says. He has so much knowledge, and he has the team so fired up right now. I think our guys would take some bullets right now."

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