PHOTO: Fairfax racer Craig Bushey had an impressive performance in the Spring Green at Devil’s Bowl. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

WEST HAVEN — Craig Bushey had a career day at Devil’s Bowl Speedway on Sunday. Despite fading to an eighth-place finish in the late laps of the Spring Green 111, Bushey’s performance at the front — and his bumper-tagging duel with American-Canadian Tour king Brian Hoar — will stand out as a breakthrough effort.

Bushey, from Fairfax, led five times for a race-high total of 49 laps and earned his sixth career ACT Late Model Tour top-ten finish. After early jawing with veterans Jamie Fisher and Ricky Rolfe up front, a mid-race battle with eventual winner Hoar produced five lead changes over the course of 20 laps and established Bushey as a potential spoiler in 2011.

Bushey and Hoar’s cars bounced off one another on more than one occasion, including a lap-66 game of push-and-shove that riled the fans up. The hard driving took its toll, though, and Bushey’s handling fell off as the laps wound down.

“It was a lot of fun until the car gave up, or until I used it up, however you want to look at it,” Bushey laughed.

Headquartered in the spacious Vermont Life Safety garages of Bolton team owner Leigh Sykes, Bushey’s team purchased a new McColl Racing Enterprises chassis during the off-season. While running in the top ten at the ACT season opener at Lee USA Speedway in April, a hard crash forced the team to send the car back to the McColl shop in Ontario to be rebuilt. Bushey missed competing at the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road in Barre on May 1 as a result.

Debuting new sponsorship from Miller Auto Group in Lebanon, N.H., on Sunday, though, Bushey made a statement at Devil’s Bowl that his team is stronger than ever.

“I was hoping we were going to have a solid finish to clearly make the statement, but as a team on a big outlook, I think we we’ve finally got something we can contend with. Now we can take it home and work with it,” Bushey said. “The car was really good, we just used up the right-rear tire. There was a lot of water out there and a few times on restarts I’d get pinned on the bottom on the water and it just used the heck out of the car.”

Of his battle with Hoar, Bushey said he wasn’t going to lie down and give the race away.

“It was fun, but it was to the point where Brian ran me up into the marbles and I just wanted to let him know, ‘Hey, if you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do it a hundred percent the right way,’” Bushey said. “I’m not giving you anything. I’m not pulling over, you’re gonna have to earn it.”

Hoar said he enjoyed the physical nature of the battle, comparing Bushey’s driving style to that of the late Dale Earnhardt.

“Craig is a tremendously talented race car driver, [but] sometimes he’s a bit of a meathead on the race track,” Hoar said. “I say that only in kudos to him. It’s kind of like Dale Earnhardt. He reminds me of that style of racer. You get up there and that son of a [gun] is just tough.”

Although he was disappointed in the final result, Bushey felt good about his day overall.

“In the end, we had a good day. The car is in one piece and we did have a lot of fun,” he said. “We wish we would’ve had a better finish, but it’s a good bittersweet. We’re happy as a whole.”