- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. | Chase Austin caught a flash of blue and orange out of the corner of his eye right before he drove into the side of the race car.

He wasn’t sure whom he had hit until he heard the crowd roar with delight.

Austin cringed.

He had just wrecked Kyle Busch. While Busch was leading the race.

It was a disastrous moment for the fledgling 19-year-old NASCAR driver, who was running in just his fourth Nationwide Series race when he wrecked Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night.

Busch had just passed Kevin Harvick for the lead when Austin had a tire issue up ahead. As Busch barreled through the turn and weaved down low to pass the lapped car, the tire problem caused Austin to turn left inexplicably and directly into Busch.

The accident just 51 laps into the race took Busch out of contention, and Austin braced for the tongue-lashing that was sure to follow.

Instead, Busch was stunningly gracious in his post-accident interviews and resisted the urge to blast the inexperienced Austin on national TV.

“I think that was the biggest shock of the whole night,” Austin said five days after the accident he hopes won’t come to define his career.

“It was this whole series of events where I saw [his car logo] and thought, ‘That’s not good.’ Then I heard the fans screaming, knew it was him. … He could have really said some nasty stuff, but he didn’t. I am not sure why. That’s the question I’ve been wanting to ask him.”

He wasn’t alone.

Busch has an extremely low tolerance for those he believes got in the way of a victory, and he typically doesn’t hesitate to gripe about others’ on-track gaffes. Even when he’s the one in the wrong, he can find fault in his rivals and publicly disparage their driving.

But he hesitated with Austin, in part because he didn’t think it would do the young driver any good.

“He’s young, trying to learn. Inexperienced. It’s not worth it to blast a young guy coming in trying to learn,” Busch said. “I don’t tend to cut the experienced guys much slack, you know, because we all should know better. But Chase, he thought he was doing the right thing. He’s coming from late models, where… if you have a problem, you get down out of the way, put your hand out the window. Everybody knows that.

“Here, when you’re going so fast, 3,400-pound stock cars, you just got to stay up against the wall. Hopefully he’s learned that, and next time we won’t have that scenario.”

Austin is just hoping there is a next time.

Just five years into the business and his NASCAR career has been one disappointment after another.

He signed with Hendrick Motorsports’ driver development program when he was 14, but that venture ended after its two leaders, general manager Jeff Turner and Hendrick’s son, Ricky, were among 10 people killed when an HMS plane crashed on its way to a 2004 race in Martinsville, Va.

Austin eventually landed a new deal with Rusty Wallace Racing in 2007, but he said a sponsorship issue ended that arrangement in early 2008 before he ever made a NASCAR start.

Now he’s just piecing together any ride he can and stays busy working for the trucking company his family started in Mooresville, N.C.

Bristol was just the sixth time he has raced in 2009, and that includes a non-NASCAR event. He wasn’t even supposed to be there but got a call the night before the race with an offer to drive for SK Motorsports.

He left at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, his father manning the wheel so Austin could get some sleep. He had a two-hour practice shortly after he arrived at the track.

Austin said he napped in between practices, then finally made his Bristol debut that night - with a spotter he said he met just before the race started.

The Nationwide Series goes this weekend to the road course in Montreal, and Austin will be watching on TV. He’s hoping to put together something for Atlanta on Sept. 5.

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