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Roush motors sputter badly

The engine builders at Roush Racing are in for a long week.

Four of the six engines the team prepared for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway failed.

Roush drivers Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton were victims, as well as Ricky Rudd of the Wood Brothers team, which uses Roush engines. A fifth, Roush rookie Greg Biffle, drove the final 150 laps with a nervous eye on the bright red oil light on his dash.

"We've always had a problem under the hood," Busch said. "We try and try and try. We gain horsepower, but we're just not competing under the hood like the other teams."

For Martin, a championship contender last year, it marked consecutive races with engine failures. He finished last at Las Vegas and 42nd at AMS, plummeting from fourth to 25th in points.

"This is a pretty tough road for all of us, but that's how it goes, I guess," said Martin, one of only 13 cars on the lead lap when the engine blew on Lap 135.

Busch's engine blew 10 laps after Martin's.

RESURRECTED: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. hope their strong runs will put an end to talk of their dismal starts.

Gordon's runner-up was his first top 10 of the season. He jumped 12 places in points to eighth.

"I know how good this team is and that if we just kept our heads up and kept digging, the good finishes would come," said Gordon, who failed to record a top-10 finish in the first three races for the first time in his 11-year career. "I'm thankful that it came now and not too far down the road."

Earnhardt Jr. was third, giving him consecutive top fives. After disappointing results at Daytona and Rockingham he has climbed 28 places to 10th in points the past two weeks.

"I feel like these are the finishes we need," said Earnhardt, second at Las Vegas. "It sure helps us in the points and gets a lot of people off my back."

NOT SO AWESOME: Outside pole-sitter Bill Elliott, a local favorite from nearby Dawsonville, Ga., retired on Lap 166 with a blown engine in the No. 9 Dodge. Elliott has five AMS wins, but has only one top 10 since the track was reconfigured in 1997.

TAKE THAT: Mentioned by NASCAR president Bill France Jr. as a track that might not warrant two events because it cannot sell out out its spring or fall races, AMS put up a pretty good fight.

Thanks to nearly perfect weather _ sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s _ walk-up ticket sales were good. The crowd was estimated at 106,000 at the facility, which holds about 120,000.

PIT STOPS: Car owner Richard Childress' mother, Virginia Hodge, died Saturday at age 79. Childress left AMS Sunday morning to be with his family. Officials summoned Steve Park to the NASCAR trailer for running into John Andretti and Jerry Nadeau on pit road.

_ JOANNE KORTH

Up next:MAKING NEWS

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