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Bristol NASCAR Sprint Cup Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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What an incredible week for the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing. The story lines were simply amazing due to Bristol drama that we all expected from the Coliseum of Collision. We watched the return of a prodigal son,(to victory lane) and, more importantly, we watched the 2009 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship hit new levels of drama. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for stepping up when his Joe Gibbs Racing team needed it the most. By the sound of those boo berries after the race many NASCAR fans apparently are still having issues with NASCAR's "rowdy one." But even his harshest critics has to admit that he really came through big time Saturday night after winning Bristol's Sharpie 500.

It was Busch's fourth win of the season but, more importantly, it revitalized a campaign to make the all important 12 man line up for the Chase. Busch jumped from 15th to 13th in the current standings and is now only 34 points away from,  the official Chase lineup. Busch's Chase status has been the talk of NASCAR for several weeks. It seems he hit a win, and top five finish, slump and there were many observers who seriously questioned whether or not this high profile team would make the Chase at all. They're not out of the woods yet, but last Saturday night has made the comeback trail a lot easier.

Busch seriously had to fend off a final lap challenge from Mark Martin and in victory lane called Martin "a class act" and said "it was an honor to race with him." Busch also made it a point to thank the members of his team, team sponsors, race sponsors and the fans. There was absolutely no trace of the surly arrogance we've seen in the past during these interviews. After crossing the start line for the final time, Busch climbed out of his car and retrieved the checkered flag. He passed it through the spectator fence to a young lady who was wearing a team M&M's T shirt.

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Last week Mark Martin, and crew chief Alan Gustafson, received a rarely issued double WHAT'S-UP for that fuel mileage gamble at the Michigan race that both failed miserably and cost them dearly. They arrived at the Bristol Motor Speedway 12th in the championship standings and perilously close to falling out of Chase contention.

This week we're giving Martin and his team a triple THUMBS-UP. The first is for his outstanding performance in the Bristol race where he led 240 laps and treated the fans to a Bristol style side by side finish during the final laps of the race. That second place finish elevated from 12th to 10th in the championship standings. Like Kyle Busch, he's not out of the woods yet but that strong run gives the team a little extra Chase breathing room.

The second THUMBS-UP goes to Martin for simply being the man he is. Kyle Busch called it right after the race: he is indeed a class act. He could have given Busch the Bristol bump and run during those final four laps but Martin has an outstanding reputation for being a clean driver who doesn't do his business that way.

The third THUMBS-UP goes to Martin in honor of his 1,000th career Sprint Cup start. In a pre race ceremony he was given a beautiful three foot crystal trophy and fuel for his airplane. He was also honored with the official Bristol sign display. This happens when the fans, from an entire section of the speedway's grandstand, are given colored cards that spells out a phase. In this particular case the phrase was: "Mark 1000." This sign display is a Bristol tradition that takes a very elaborate effort to arrange. It's also a true honor to have your name on that display.

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We have three candidates for the combo WHAT'S-UP/THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do this week.

WHAT'S-UP with Jimmie Johnson's #48 team and that awful pit stop? This is a team that rarely makes mistakes but this particular stop was simply amazing. The jack man dropped the car before the lug nuts on the right rear tire were completely tight and Johnson had to make a second visit to pit road for corrections. He initially entered pit road as the race leader and restarted 22nd. But this is the championship team who doesn't know the word quit and they deserve a THUMBS-UP for turning a tense moment into an eighth place finish and officially clinching a starting berth in the Chase.

WHAT'S-UP with Jeff Gordon's #24 running like a dump truck? There just didn't seem to be a solution for Gordon's car on this day and the team finished 23d, one lap down and fell from second to third in the standings. But the good news is they hung in there and officially clinched their berth in the Chase.

Also making chicken salad out of chicken do do was Brian Vickers. Here's a rising Sprint Cup star that was having an excellent week prior to the Bristol race. The week before he delivered his Red Bull Racing team their first Sprint Cup victory at Michigan. Two days later he signed a multi year contract extension with the team. But the Bristol effort was not working and, only two different occasions, Vickers found himself a lap down. But, with the use of the lucky dog pass, he managed to get back on the lead lap again and rallied for a 12th place finish. He also preserved a genuine shot at making the Chase. With two races left, Vickers is only 39 points from that all important 12 man Chase line up.

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THUMBS-UP to the drama developing with the bottom half of NASCAR's Chase line up. It was highly anticipated that the Bristol race was going to impact these standings and the prediction came true.

THUMBS-UP to Stewart Haas Racing's Ryan Newman whose sixth place finish elevated the team to seventh in the standings. This will greatly bolster the team's chances of making the Chase. Another THUMBS-UP goes to Newman for being a Bristol iron man. He ran the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, the Nationwide Series race on Friday and of course the Sprint Cup Saturday night. The totals were well over 1000 laps and over 500 miles of racing.

THUMBS-UP to Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. His fourth place finish at Bristol bumped his team two spots in the standings to eighth. He's not exactly in the Chase safety zone yet but the clean air is a lot easier to breathe at eighth than it is at tenth.

WHAT'S-UP with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya and the bad luck that comes with a late in the race flat tire? That resulted in a solid top ten car finishing 25th and the team dropped two positions, to a precarious ninth, in the Chase standings.

WHAT'S-UP with Richard Petty Motorsports' Kasey Kahne and a Dodge that was so far off with the handling package that it finished in 28th three laps down? This was a car that was rock solid during prerace practice sessions. Kahne fell three Chase positions and is now in a precarious 11th in the standings.

WHAT'S-UP with Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth and a series of sluggish runs that now has him 12th in the standings and in danger of falling out of Chase contention? In all fairness Kenseth rallied to a tenth place finish at Bristol but the next two races are going to be white knuckle time for his team.

WHAT'S-UP with Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer and his horrible Bristol luck? There's no question that all four RCR teams are no where close to their expected potential. The organization has yet to find victory lane and won't be fielding a team in the 2009 Chase. Bowyer was their only hope, albeit a slim one, for racing his way into the 12 man Chase roster. But after being involved in two different accidents at Bristol, which led to a 21st finish, that hope is virtually gone.

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There were also some additional individual Bristol runs that warrants a mention this week.

THUMBS-UP to Marcus Ambrose and his outstanding third place finish at the speedway where no one really expected him to do that well. It's been a very good week for this team. They were informed of additional 2010 sponsorship from Kimberly Clark the makers of Kleenex and Scott paper products. Since team Owners JTG-Daugherty Racing formed an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing last year there has been nothing but noted improvement. Look for a team announcement very soon that says that agreement is going to be renewed.

THUMBS-UP to Dale Earnhardt Jr for once again making his fans, the Junior Nation, smile. The #88 Hendrick Motorsports team scored another top ten finish at Bristol and appears to be moving forward toward resolving some serious team issues that has plagued them all season long.

WHAT'S-UP with series points leader Tony Stewart and all the problems he had with his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet? There was no "smoke" in this car whatsoever. Do you remember that old cellular phone service TV ad that went "can you hear me now?" That's probably what Stewart was yelling when his car radio system went dead. I'm not sure that I want to know what he was yelling while having to deal with a car that was handling like it was possessed by the devil. I can only imagine what Stewart was yelling while a tow truck pushed his lifeless car to the garage area after the devil drained the life out of the battery. The best team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup finished an uncharacteristic 33d and 11 laps down. The good news is: Stewart clinched his starting berth in the Chase following the Michigan race.

In the aftermath Rob D’Amico, from Speed Radio, made an interesting observation about Stewart's car during a Sunday night television appearance on Dave Despain’s "Wind Tunnel" program. D’Amico said "Stewart is probably going to turn that car in to the government's Cash For Clunkers program before the it officially ends Monday morning."

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The NASCAR Nationwide Series also provided some very exciting moments last Friday night. THUMBS-UP to Roush Fenway Racing's David Ragan for a brilliant move ,against team mate Carl Edwards, that led to his second series win in 15 starts this year. Ragan used the presence of a lapped car as a pick and forced Edwards into the high line behind that lapped car. THUMBS-UP to Edwards for being his always gracious self after the race when he said "he played me like a violin. He knew where my weakness on the track was and he used it."

Edwards was asked about a planned level of racing aggression, when the green flag flew with only four laps left in the race. He said he considered the fact that he was going to pick up a lot of points on series' leader Kyle Busch and also considered that fact that Ragan is his team mate and replied "I kept the aggression level to about 98 percent."

WHAT'S-UP with series rookie Chase Austin and that front stretch move that took out race leader Kyle Busch along with Reed Sorenson. Austin was limping around the speedway, with a cut tire, and then pulled down towards the bottom of the track just as the leader Busch was coming at him. The incident was later deemed as a rookie mistake. Austin said he didn't hear a warning from his spotter to stay on the high side of the track. Truth be known this incident went down so fast that it's doubtful that the spotter even time to react let alone send a message. Austin also noted that he could tell by the cheering from the spectators that it was the Busch car that he hit. THUMBS-UP to Busch and Sorenson for cutting the rookie a major break during their post accident interviews.

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THUMBS-UP to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for another fine performance last Wednesday night at Bristol.

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for taking command of that race, with less than 50 laps to go, for his third series win of the season and his second consecutive win at Bristol. He also managed to snap Ron Hornaday Jr's five race winning streak. Hornaday finished third in this race behind Matt Crafton and is well on track for another series championship.

On the topic of Wednesday night racing at Bristol, THUMBS-UP to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series and their running of the Union Perfect Storm 150 won by Donny Lia. This was a very good race by a good racing series. I, for one, would like to see more of this series on live television.

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THUMBS-UP to NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Casey Mears and Jeff Burton. During their free time, prior to Saturday's Bristol race, they helped over 100 volunteers at the Jack Daniels ten, Mear's sponsor, pack special care packages that are going to be shipped to American soldiers who are serving overseas.

The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to the Speed Channel's Kenny Wallace who, last Saturday night, said "Kyle Busch is so ugly he doesn't deserve that beautiful girlfriend he has." Yet another reason why we all love "Herman The German."

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