Winning the audition can be tougher than playing the part. Just ask Kurt Busch, who had to beat eight other wannabes last fall to earn the driver's seat with vaunted Roush Racing.
He's now setting rookie records in the NASCAR truck series.
''Things have gone surprising well for us,'' the 21-year-old driver said.
In just a half-season, the tall, slender upstart from Pahrump, Nev., already has matched a series record for wins by a first-year competitor.
That was achieved July 8 at New Hampshire International Speedway, when got his second victory to tie Kenny Irwin's 1997 record. Irwin, who moved up to Winston Cup in 1998, was killed a day earlier on the same track.
With an all-business approach, Busch didn't think about the significance of a possible victory before or during the race.
''As soon as we crossed the finish line, I thought about it and it solidified the moment,'' he said. ''I just felt with the passing of Kenny we had help from above.''
Busch tied Irwin's record by holding off Mike Wallace in a thrilling, final-lap shootout in the thatlook.com 200. There was contact between their trucks, but Busch held on to win.
''He raced me clean and tapped me, as you expect in that situation, but I was able to drive away to win,'' Busch said.
Despite his age, victory celebrations aren't new. Busch set records last year by winning four consecutive races and being the youngest champion in NASCAR's southwest stock-car series.
This year, he became the youngest truck series driver to win a pole and a race. He has tied several other records he figures to break soon.
''The whole Roush team is pleased with our 'Gong Show' pick,'' general manager Max Jones said.
Busch remembers the auditions held at two tracks.
''I felt like I lost it, because the first time, in Toledo, I didn't think I did that well,'' he said. ''But I guess I did enough for them to call me back for the second test.
''In Phoenix, I just got into the flow of a normal race weekend.''
Then he sat for a few weeks, waiting for the verdict.
''They gave me a call a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and it was very surprising,'' he said.
He's now with an organization that fields nine teams in three NASCAR divisions. Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth are Winston Cup aces who also win often on the Grand National circuit, although Kenseth does so in a car not owned by Roush.
Busch's teammate, Greg Biffle, is setting many records of his own in the truck series, and leading in the points. Between them, they have won the last five races.
Jack Roush, whose credentials as a fine talent evaluator are well established, was surprised by the rapid rise of Busch.
''I didn't expect him to win a race this year,'' Roush said. ''And I figured he'd tear up a lot more equipment that he has.''
Crew chief Matt Chambers, who has prepared trucks for three different winners in the series, sees Busch as much more than a talented young driver. He says Busch is eager to learn and open to suggestions, but is ready to contribute many of his own, too.
Chambers also is impressed because Busch comes to the race shop and helps get the trucks ready.
''I look for him to do big things before his career is over,'' Chambers said.
Much is expected of Busch, who knows getting a seat in a good Winston Cup car won't be easy without more victories. But he has no problem relaxing.
''With the good equipment and the good people at Roush, the pressure has really been taken off my shoulders,'' said Busch, racing since he was 15. ''All I have to do is drive.''
Busch knows that Roush expects a lot from his drivers, and he is excited by the challenge.
''I really couldn't ask for much more,'' he said. ''This is great stepladder through the trucks, and I want to win the Winston Cup championship some year.''
Thinking big is something he learned from his father, Tom, a salesman for MAC tools and a former late model racer in Las Vegas.
''He taught me everything from A to Z,'' Busch said. ''Whether I was chasing girls around the playground or driving a race car, he's been my mentor.''
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
1. Greg Biffle, 2,582.
2. Mike Wallace, 2,404.
3. Andy Houston, 2,393.
4. Jack Sprague, 2,381.
5. Kurt Busch, 2,328.
6. Steve Grissom, 2,167.
7. Randy Tolsma, 2,145.
8. Dennis Setzer, 2,097.
9. Rick Crawford, 2,067.
10. Bryan Reffner, 2,064.
11. Joe Ruttman, 2,055.
12. Jimmy Hensley, 2,019.
13. Marty Houston, 1,939.
14. Terry Cook, 1,859.
15. Rick Carelli, 1,636.
16. Lance Norick, 1,612.
17. Randy MacDonald, 1,581.
18. Rob Morgan, 1,574.
19. Carlos Contreras, 1,562.
20. Randy Renfrow, 1,537.
21. B.A. Wilson, 1,312.
22. Ryan McGlynn, 1,282.
23. Scott Riggs, 1,230.
24. Wayne Edwards, 1,012.
25. Rick Ware, 975.
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