KURT BUSCH grabbed the lead from pole sitter JEFF GORDON and ran with it for the first 67 laps of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Subway Fresh 500 race at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday night's inaugural spring race under the lights.

He turned the races fastest lap of 130.175mph on the second lap. Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, led six times for a record-high of 219 laps. He ended his dry spell of winless races dating back to last September. This marked Busch's twelfth Cup victory. It was also the twelfth victory for Ford at PIR, the most of any manufacturer in its 18-race history. Busch is the third Roush racer this season to win a race; he won $264,000.

Kurt Busch's younger brother, KYLE BUSCH was the top finishing rookie, eighth place in the race, and is now 25th in the points. Kyle Busch also picked up the USG Improving the Finish Award for gaining 19 positions in the race. Young Busch is the rookie points leader.

Related Articles

MICHAEL WALTRIP drove a hard race, led twice for 23 laps and was charging after Kurt Busch for the win. He took the high line, which others say he often does, and he makes it work...most of the time. On the last lap, DEI driver, Waltrip, hit the wall three times, but said it didn't seem to make any difference. His explanation for the hits was 'I ran out of talent'.

Third place finisher, JEFF BURTON saw Waltrip bouncing off the wall, and said Waltrip hits the wall a lot. Burton chased Waltrip, but said he could see he wasn't catching him. Burton said he didn't notice the wind at all until he exited the car.

Waltrip's DEI team-mate, DALE EARNHARDT Jr finished fourth, perhaps mercifully ending the speculation, at least for now, about what is going on at DEI for the two drivers. Earnhardt and Waltrip both are visibly tired of answering questions on the subject.

BRIAN VICKERS finished fifth. BOBBY LABONTE started fourth and finished sixth, pulling him into the desired top 35 points drivers, which will guarantee him a starting spot for next weekend's Talladega race.

All cars cleared NASCAR technical inspection.

The average race speed was 102.707mph. There were 16 lead changes among nine drivers. Nine cautions took up 43 of the 312-lap race.

PIR doesn't give out attendance figures, but someone in NASCAR comes up with a crowd count. Tonight's crowd, braving the iffy weather, numbered 105,000. The grandstands were sold out of their 76,000 seats, and the hillsides and RV parking areas seemed full.

It started raining soon after the race, quickly picking up force. Monsoons are legendary in Arizona.

Points leader JIMMIE JOHNSON had a mixed day finishing 15th after starting twelfth. Saturday afternoon SPEED Channel announced that Johnson had passed British IRL driver DAN WHELDON for the first quarter voting in the 2005 Driver of the Year Award. Eight drivers were nominated for the first quarter, and a panel of 18 experts vote, along with fans.

Team owner Roush admitted he was "if anyone cared, asleep at the switch and completely missed that Thursday was a track day". He promised to read the posted schedules. Roush wasn't the only one who missed Thursday's track day - more than one in the media centre missed Thursday because the 'Cup never comes in on Thursdays'.

Correction to two things I said in the last column. The Cup race actually started fifteen or so minutes late, due to the afternoon rain storms. And despite being repeatedly assured it was TONY STEWART in the #2 CITGO Crawford Pontiac Daytona Prototype for the exhibition lap just prior to the Cup race. I was advised after the race that it wasn't Stewart because 'the rains jumbled the pre-race schedule. They got someone else to make the parade laps in the car'.

No-one at the track knows who made the run, other than it 'was one of the other Grand-Am drivers'. That narrows it down. Next weekend's Grand-Am Rolex entry list for the US Sports Car Invitational race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey CA has 54 cars, with two drivers per car, sometimes three. There are 24 Daytona Prototypes and 30 GT cars. The Grand-Am Cup race has 68 entries, with 46 GS cars and 22 ST cars, all with two or more drivers. Take your pick.

Daytona Prototype car builders MAX and JAN CRAWFORD were at the track before the Cup race.

Also reported to be at the race but not sighted was GEORGE LUCAS, because of all the Star Wars tie-ins with the cars of DALE JARRETT and ELLIOTT SADLER. Both drivers, cars and crews posed with the Star War characters in pit-lane. Not many people know that GEORGE LUCAS used to race himself. He went through SFR SCCA driver's school at Infineon Raceway and raced a DSR in club races with San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America. That was back in the ways when he was single and dating LINDA RONSTADT. You could always tell where Lucas was because Ronstadt was close behind, followed by a trail of admirers.

Next weekend, Nextel Cup races the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Super Speedway.