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Auto Racing Young Busch Series stars make it look easy with 1-2 finish

Sunday, September 07, 2003

By Mike Harris, The Associated Press

First, there were the "Young Guns," drivers in their 20s with talent and confidence.

Now, there are the "Teenage Terrors," Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, raising eyebrows and expectations with feats seemingly too mature for their tender years.

The 19-year-old Vickers and 18-year-old Busch finished 1-2 Aug. 30 in the Busch series race at tough old Darlington Raceway -- considered by many grizzled veterans the most difficult track in NASCAR.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip finished third in the Busch race, passed by Vickers in the pits and Busch on the racetrack. Waltrip, 40, said he isn't surprised at the quick start by the two youngsters.

"A race car doesn't know how old the driver is," Waltrip said. "I keep telling people, with the equipment these young guys get into nowadays, it's not surprising they have so much success.

"They don't know any better that they can't do the job. They get in the car and they get on it."

Darlington was the second win of Vickers' first full season in the Busch series. He went into Friday night's race in Richmond, Va., third in the points race with 15 top-10s and eight top-fives.

Success has earned Vickers a trip to the next level in 2004, when he will be the youngest full-time Winston Cup regular at 20.

Busch, the younger brother of 25-year-old Winston Cup star Kurt Busch -- one of the "Young Guns" -- isn't far behind Vickers.

Running a limited schedule of Busch and ARCA races this season, Kyle has two ARCA wins -- both before his 18th birthday -- and has finished second in two of three Busch series starts since becoming eligible to race in the series on May 2, his birthday.

The youngster ran seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events in 2001 as a 16-year-old, and the plan was to move him last year to the steppingstone Busch series. But NASCAR passed a minimum age requirement of 18.

Instead, Busch ran 20 races in the American Speed Association in 2002, earning four top-fives and finishing eighth in the Midwest-based stock car series as a rookie. He also made his ARCA debut last fall in Charlotte, finishing 12th.

Vickers and Busch drive for Hendrick Motorsports, an elite team that fields Winston Cup cars for four-time series champion Jeff Gordon; two-time series champion Terry Labonte, who won last Sunday's Southern 500 at Darlington; Jimmie Johnson, another of the "Young Guns;" and Joe Nemechek, who will be leaving at the end of the season to make room for Vickers.

Vickers will replace Nemechek in the No. 25 Chevrolet next season, with Busch climbing into the full-time seat Vickers leaves behind in the Busch series.

Vickers was discovered by Ricky Hendrick, son of team owner Rick Hendrick, and began his Busch career in 2002. He took a while to begin fulfilling his potential.

"I tore a lot of stuff up my first year," Vickers said. "My first four races [this year] and the 21 races I ran last year we had some good runs, we had some bad, some blown tires, had some stuff break, and I made a lot of mistakes."

Vickers is certainly aware of the opportunity he's been given.

"Having been within the Hendrick organization makes a huge difference," Vickers said. "Rick has so much advice to give a young driver that can keep him from making those mistakes that most people have to make to learn from.

"I've got a lot of information to pull from that's helped me this year."

The same could be said for Busch, who also can turn to his older brother for advice, even though Kurt drives for the rival Roush Racing team.

"Kurt and I are great friends," Kyle said. "He told me a lot of things I needed to know about [Darlington] and ... everything that he told me worked."

Mostly, though, the early success for Vickers and Busch appears to be a matter of unusual talent.

"Brian has proven that he has the tools to be successful, not only through on-track performance, but with his maturity and ability to handle himself in a way that represents our sponsors, our teams and our sport in a positive light," Rick Hendrick said. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to have a very long and productive career.

"Kyle Busch is a talent. In a short amount of time, he's shown that he has the ability to go out and compete with the best this sport has to offer. It's going to be fun to watch him race every week with a championship-caliber team."

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