Originally created 05/04/02

Keller wins third Busch race



RICHMOND, Va. - Jason Keller passed Bobby Hamilton Jr. with 12 laps to go Friday night and won the Hardee's 250, an event that tied the Richmond International Raceway record for Busch series cautions.

Eleven yellow flags flew, most coming in the first half of the race as a new sealer on the track made the turns treacherous. The pace was slowed for 85 of the 250 laps, and 19 cars were finished before the end came.

The victory was Keller's third in 10 races this season and first at Richmond, the track he insists is his favorite on the Busch circuit. He went from 32 points behind 18th-place finisher Jack Sprague to the series lead by 34.

Through most of the night, Hamilton was the man to beat. He led 158 laps and used his spot in the front to avoid the wildness behind him.

Hamilton even swapped the lead with Keller with about 27 laps to go, but grabbed it back three laps later and quickly rebuilt it to more than a second. But racing on tires that hadn't been changed for nearly 150 laps, he was an easy mark for the veteran, who slowly reeled him in.

The end for Hamilton came on the backstretch of the 239th lap around three-quarter-mile oval when Keller's Ford ducked inside and easily blew by as Hamilton's car appeared to lose power.

Keller raced on to an easy victory, while Hamilton pulled his coasting Ford into his pit, and his pit crew pushed it gloomily to the garage.

Hamilton wound up 25th.

Ashton Lewis Jr. of Chesapeake recovered from a front-stretch spin and finished a career-best second, followed by Greg Biffle, Michael Waltrip and Kevin Grubb.

The race was the first run on the newly sealed oval, and prerace driver concerns about the absence of a second racing groove proved to be legitimate right away. The caution flag flew four times in the first 51 laps and slowed the pace for 38 of the first 64 laps.

Further, 10 cars were out of the race after about 100 laps, including those of Winston Cup regulars Johnny Benson, Jeff Green and Todd Bodine.

Jimmy Spencer, another Winston Cup regular seeking his record-tying third consecutive Busch victory here, was gone a short time later when a U-bolt broke on his car as he was about to exit his pit.

"There's no question in my mind that we were the car to beat," said Spencer, who had climbed into the top five after starting 27th.

Sprague, on the pole for the second consecutive week after rain washed out qualifying, brought out the first caution when he slammed into the wall in on the 12th lap.