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Thursday, February 10, 2005
Being champion taxing Busch

Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kurt Busch might not stick around NASCAR's Nextel Cup series as long as veterans such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott.

Those drivers are in their 40s and winding down long and successful careers. Martin and Wallace plan to make 2005 their final full season in Cup racing, Labonte is cutting back to a 10-race schedule for both 2005 and 2006 and Elliott went to a limited schedule last season.

The 26-year-old Busch is a long way from joining the elder statesmen of the sport, but the 36-race season -- particularly the 10-race playoff-style finish -- have already taken their toll on the series champion.

"When I first jumped into the sport five years ago, it looked like I could do 25 more years and that would put me in my late 40s or early 50s,'' Busch said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

Now, he has major doubts.

"With the schedule and demands of the championship, and hopefully more championships to come along, it's a matter of balancing it out to where you do take a day [offe] each week,'' Busch said. "Where you do separate some time for yourself to where you're not in the hustle and bustle a full 36 weeks straight.

"For me, I'd say with what has happened with this new Chase format and the way it progresses on my body, maybe five years have been knocked off already.''

He thinks 45 or even 40 will be the ideal age for most drivers to retire.

"But I definitely don't see drivers going into their 50s like they do right now,'' Busch said.

Fan favorite already
Kasey Kahne, last year's top Cup rookie, has already become a fan favorite -- and he enjoys it.

"The fans will run up on you at places you don't expect them,'' said Kahne, who usually stays in a motorhome in the drivers' compound at the track on race weekends. "Fans will jump the fences at night and come knocking at your door. I actually let a couple in one time.

"I was watching the Final Four and these guys came up and were into it. I have no clue why I let them in. We watched the game and then they took off. It was pretty cool, but fans will do anything.''

Emergency landing
A corporate aircraft traveling Thursday from Concord, N.C., to Daytona Beach with NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and his wife, Carla, aboard made an emergency landing after being diverted to Lakeland, Fla.

There was believed to be a problem with the landing gear, but emergency equipment standing by was not needed when the plane landed without incident.

Wallace, who plans to compete in the Daytona 500 and the Busch and truck series races next week, said an inspection revealed a $3 plastic penlight flashlight had rolled up under the dashboard and jammed under the gear release.

"The nice part about it is nothing happened,'' Wallace said. "Everything ended up perfect.''

The Other Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a huge star in NASCAR as well as the defending champion of the Daytona 500, but older half brother Kerry is just hoping to make the big race and begin establishing himself in the sport.

"It's pretty exciting to be at Daytona anytime, but to be here trying to make the Daytona 500 is pretty big,'' said the 34-year-old Kerry, who will drive a partial Cup schedule for Richard Childress Racing as well as a full Craftsman Truck slate for Ballew Motorsports.

His father, Dale Earnhardt, killed in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500, drove much of his career for Childress.

"It's a very special opportunity for me because Dad drove for him,'' Earnhardt said. "A lot of people say it's because of Dad that I have the opportunity, but you know what, Richard still has to believe in me and put together the team, the equipment and the money that goes into the Bass Pro program.

"It says a lot about Richard, that he believes in me enough to put me in his equipment to race the superspeedway races this season. Hopefully, it will turn into something bigger.''

His father was known as a master of racing at Daytona, where carburetor restrictor plates sap horsepower and the cars runs in giant packs. Dale Jr. has taken his father's mantle as the top restrictor-plate driver and Kerry would like to show it runs in the family.

"I really like restrictor-plate racing,'' said Kerry, who drove for Childress in plate races last season at Daytona and Talladega. "I didn't think I would, but it's been a lot of fun. I've adapted do it pretty quick. I haven't really had anyone teach me how to draft or anything. It's come pretty natural.

"I'm not going to say I'm good at it because the results don't show it. But we've run up front and pushed Dale Jr. to the front once so its been a good time.''

Longtime NASCAR driver Ken Schrader expects to move to the Craftsman Truck series after his Cup contract ends following the 2006 season. .... Seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty will serve as the national membership chairman for the new NASCAR Members Club, an organization designed to further involve the estimated 75 million stock car fans in the sport. For a $40 annual fee, fans 13 and older will be entitled to VIP treatment at NASCAR races, special events and race-week parties and other amenities.