It would seem the last thing Kurt Busch needed was a distraction.
Busch heads into Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- the seventh of 10 races in the championship chase -- leading the standings by 96 points over Jeff Gordon.
Before that, though, Busch was set to race Saturday in the season-ending International Race of Champions all-star event on the same fast 1.54-mile oval. He was fifth in the IROC points, with a mathematical shot at winning the $1 million first prize.
The cup championship will be worth closer to $10 million, and driving in non-points races can be dangerous, a fact brought home earlier this year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was burned in a fire after crashing during a sports car event. Earnhardt, who is third in the cup points, drove in pain for several races and had to use relief drivers in two events.
Busch said he never considered skipping the IROC event.
"No, it still intrigues me each time to come out and run these Crown Royal IROC cars because of the parity among the cars and the group of drivers you race with on the track," Busch explained. "Atlanta is a very fast racetrack and things can happen pretty quick, but it's a matter of understanding your competitors.
"People that are in this series are true champions of their respective divisions, so you hope they'll use that frame of mind when they go to compete in the final IROC race."
Besides, Busch just loves driving race cars.
"I'm a true racer at heart," he said. "I want to come out and strap into a seat any chance that I get. You don't want to put our position in cup in danger due to small circumstances that could come up, but you see a lot of guys run Busch cars every week and you never know when your time is going to be."
Rusty Wallace still isn't happy about the way he was treated by teammate Ryan Newman last Sunday during the cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
"It's an issue that I'm sure we will work out internally," said Wallace, who had not yet discussed the matter with Newman.
The Penske Racing South drivers were running second and third to Jimmie Johnson in the Subway 500 when the race went back to green for the final time with seven laps to go. Wallace, the only one of the three not contending for the season championship, tried a move to the outside of Johnson on the restart, going into a second groove where no one had succeeded all day.
Johnson rebuffed his attempt, and Newman, seeing an opportunity to take second, pulled alongside his teammate on the inside. The cars bumped and Newman won the battle, with Wallace remaining high on the track and sliding back into the pack. Newman eventually finished third, behind Johnson and Jamie McMurray, while Wallace wound up 10th.
After the race, Newman said his car was faster than Wallace's late in the race and he wasn't going to give anything away to his teammate.
"To tell you the truth, I am still a little ticked off about it," Wallace said.
"We are supposed to be working much closer as teammates and, hopefully, this instance will wind up opening the door for us to do the most we can in making sure that happens in the future," he said.
Wallace, who recently announced that 2005 will be his last year as a driver, is also a part owner of the Penske team and would like to see everyone on the team work on better communications for the future.
"I guess what happened there at Martinsville on Sunday has moved that goal up to being my No. 1 priority when I hang up my helmet at the end of next season," the 1989 cup champion said. "I think this will be one of those situations where a negative turns into a positive. We'll learn from this and work a lot closer in the future -- and the future begins in this weekend's race at Atlanta."
Atlanta is the fastest track in NASCAR at which horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates are not used to slow the cars down.
Geoffrey Bodine set the Atlanta qualifying record of 197.478 mph in November 1997. Only Daytona and Talladega are faster, with qualifying and race speeds consistently over 200 mph before NASCAR began requiring the plates at those tracks in the late 1980's.