Busch's star on the rise

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

Poor Kyle Busch. Just when he appears to be shedding his impudent brat persona and starts dominating the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, his teammate, Tony Stewart, steals all the thunder -- and headlines -- with a blistering attack on the Goodyear tires they race on.

In the week leading up to the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway's wicked half-mile this Sunday, the topic of conversation in NASCAR should have been about Busch bringing Toyota its first Cup win and the fact that he is not only sitting atop the Sprint standings, he also in first place with two wins in the Craftsman Truck series and in third place in the NASAR Nationwide series.

Remember Busch is still only 22-years-old, a year younger than four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was when he started winning in NASCAR's premier loop.

And wasn't it just last season when experts were saying Busch was too brash and too reckless to be considered among the greats?

It's possible that before this season is over, Busch will be the No. 1 driver at Gibbs and the No. 1 driver in NASCAR, and one has to wonder how that will sit with the aforementioned Stewart, who has been king of the hill in the Gibbs garage almost from the day he signed on.

It was Juan Pablo Montoya who broached that subject earlier this week in a Siriius satellite radio interview when he asked not-so innocently of host David Poole how come Stewart never ripped Goodyear in the winner's circle, yet let him finish second to his young teammate and all of a sudden it's all the fault of tires.

Getting back to Busch, Canada's Ron Fellows, who will race against Busch this year at the Nationwide NAPA 200 at Montreal's Cricuit Gilles Villeneuve, was talking a week ago -- before the No. 18 win at Atlanta -- about the talent and maturity of the Las Vegas native.

"I was doing a car show with him in Detroit," Fellows said of Busch. "And natually we were talking racing. After a while I looked over at him and realized how much he knew about racing, about the cars he races in and the tracks he races on.

"It hit me that he's only 22 years old. I have a daughter older than he is."

Fellows is convinced that Busch is a threat to break all of the modern era records for wins and championships in Sprint Cup racing.

HAMILTON HAPPY

After the 2007 season, when he was the hottest thing since a young Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton might have hoped for a less hectic sophomore season in Formula One.

Not only had Hamilton almost won the world championship in his rookie season with McLaren, but he managed to outshine his two-time champion teammate Fernando Alonso.

It was great for his scrap book collection, but it didn't do much for harmony in the team's paddock.

This year, the 23-year-old Briton pledges it will be all about winning starting early Sunday morning at the Australian Grand Prix and he's already lauding new teammate Heikki Kovalainen as an equal partner.

"I don't see myself as a team leader," Hamilton said in a pre-race media interview in Melbourne yesterday. "I feel I have a responsibility as does Heikki and we have equal responsibility in driving the team forward."

Hamilton said that having fewer dust-ups with his own teammate will make it easier for him to concentrate on what's going on in races. He also said that last year's year-end collapse that took him out of the championship will be his motivator this season.

"I want to win even more," he said.

"I think I'm more confident and the team I have behind me are stronger and I know what I want. (2007) was a very, very tough season."

SEBRING IGNITES ALMS

The American Le Mans Series launches its 2008 season with the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Saturday with some new faces and new cars in North America's most challenging sports car series.

Among the new faces at the Florida track will be Marco Andretti, grandson of Mario and son of Michael, who will be behind the wheel of the Andretti Green Racing Acura LMP2.

And Aston Martin is back to challenge the Corvettes in the GT1 class. Coverage on Speed-tv begins Saturday at 10:30 EDT.


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