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Bristol Postscript: Spring cleaning for Kyle Busch

by Dave Grayson
Monday, March 21, 2011

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Last year Kyle Busch swept all three races at Bristol and this year he broke out the broom and cleaned house again
It was another interesting weekend at the Kyle Busch, er excuse me Bristol, Motor Speedway. At the conclusion of the Jeff Byrd 500, presented by Food City, we witnessed another spring cleaning, with a large broom, in the historic speedway's victory lane in what now appears to be a yearly event. We continued to watch the performance level of the one car from Richard Childress Racing that had no real expectations to begin with and we witnessed a dramatic episode that brought the start and park concept to a whole new level. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP for Kyle Busch for another stunning performance that saw him sweep a NASCAR weekend at Bristol. Last year the "Rowdy One" swept all three of NASCAR's national touring series events at Bristol. This year he won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup events which gives him five consecutive wins in five starts. Once again the race winner was presented with a large broom for the ceremonial sweeping of victory lane.

Busch started the weekend by winning the Scott's EZ Seed 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday with a very dominating performance. He led 268 of the 300 laps for his 45th career win. He also became the first Nationwide Series driver to lead over 10,000 laps.

During Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500, presented by Food City, Busch had to work a little harder and spent the final 60 laps of the race fending off the efforts of Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson. During that process he still managed to lead the race seven times for a total of 153 laps out of 500. He also collected his 20th NASCAR Sprint Cup win which ties with the legendary Speedy Thompson on the series' all time win list. He now has at least one Sprint Cup win per season over the past seven consecutive years. His five Bristol wins now ties him with Jeff Gordon and his brother Kurt for the most wins among modern era drivers. It's also interesting to note that ten of the last 19 Sprint Cup races at Bristol has been won by a Busch brother.

In a period of approximately 24 hours, Kyle Busch ran two races totaling 800 laps. He led the two events a total of nine times for 421 laps and collected a combined $237,141 in prize money. Those numbers are just simply awesome.

Busch deserves another THUMBS-UP for a great one liner following the pre race driver introductions. After receiving a large bushel basket of boo berries from many of the fans, Busch smiled and asked "why can't we all be friends?"

The always fun Kyle Petty also gets a THUMBS-UP for his one liner during the SPEED Channel's "NASCAR Victory Lane" show. Petty was commenting on how Kyle Busch "is the guy" and further stated " if they unloaded shopping carts from Food City, he would still be the guy."

One can't help but notice new maturity levels in this driver. During his victory lane interview he bestowed well deserved praise for the performance of his pit crew especially following the final pit stop when they sent off of pit road in first place. Busch also made it a point to ask the fans to include the earthquake victims from Japan in their prayers. During the traditional post race interview on the SPEED Channel, Busch was asked about those new maturity levels. He credited the presence of his new wife Samantha in his life as well as the influence of his team owner "Coach" Joe Gibbs.

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THUMBS-UP to driver Paul Menard for another rock solid Sprint Cup performance for Richard Childress Racing. Out of the four Chevrolets in the RCR stable, it's Menard's team that has surprisingly been the top performer throughout the first four races of the year. Menard led 35 laps at Bristol and finished fifth. That effort also moves him up to fifth in the championship points standings only 14 markers away from the top of the chart.

This driver's Sprint Cup career has always been financially supported by his family owned business: Menard's Home Improvement stores with associate sponsorship packages coming from the hardware/appliance companies that has been connected with the Menards for many years now. Up until the start of this season, Paul Menard's driving career hasn't really been that stellar and there were plenty of snide comments from observers that basically said "he's driving his daddy's checkbook."

With the performance levels we've seen so far in 2011 those snide comments seem to be subsiding. During last Sunday's "NASCAR Victory Lane" program SPEED Channel analyst Kenny Wallace likely put this situation in perspective when he said "I don't care if this kid's father has a lot of money, he's the one driving the race car."

This week's THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do goes to RCR driver Kevin Harvick and his Budweiser crew. Kasey Kahne's very loose Toyota bottled up traffic and the result was a multi car crash that produced the eighth yellow flag of the race. Harvick, following a hit in the rear bumper from Mark Martin's car, went spinning down the backstretch.

Harvick, who led the race for 37 laps, got the extra effort from what he termed "a championship caliber team" and drove his way to a commendable sixth place finish. Harvick began the 2011 season 37th in points following a blown engine at Daytona. This team has worked and clawed their way up to 15th in the standings following the first four races and appear to be on the way to the top where observers said they would be.

Harvick also gets a THUMBS-UP for the best radio transmission, following his spin out, when he said "that's two times in four races when the five, (Mark Martin), has taken us out. They need to check his old ass for vision."

WHAT'S-UP with another roller coaster of a race for RCR driver Clint Bowyer? During the first, early race, multi car crash it appeared that Bowyer arrived at the scene just a little too fast and rammed the back of Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet. By the way McMurray gets a THUMBS-UP for a great radio transmission when said "doesn't he have a spotter?"

The situation got worse for Bowyer when his engine blew up a short time later and he had to settle for a disappointing 35th place finish. A pre season favorite to make the Chase For The Championship has now slipped to 24th in the standings within a new points configuration that makes digging out of a hole very difficult.

The same level of WHAT'S-UP goes to RCR driver Jeff Burton whose racing luck so far this season has left Sprint Cup observers baffled. During the Bristol race Burton felt a strong vibration in his Chevrolet that was later determined to be caused by a loose wheel. The result was an unscheduled pit stop that left him two laps down. It also led to a 20th place finish. He did manage to elevate himself to 29th in the points but here's another pre season Chase favorite who has to dig himself out of a hole.
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WHAT'S-UP with the Bristol efforts of the other two drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing? While Kyle Busch was carrying the JGR flag for the team his team mates, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, were in the midst of a struggle. Hamlin's Toyota found himself caught up in the race's first multi car crash. He had to settle for a 30th place finish 12 laps down. Worse yet, Hamlin fell from eighth to 17th in the points standings.

Meanwhile Joey Logano was struggling with horsepower issues and finish 23d at Bristol and left 30th in the points. He actually came over his radio and yelled "this motor still f***ing sucks." That was a stunning comment coming from the usually mild mannered Logano. It's certain that the comment even baffled the usually stoic "Coach" Joe Gibbs.

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THUMBS-UP to Goodyear and NASCAR officials for springing into action when it appeared there was going to be issues with the right side tires. During the pre race practice sessions there were some genuine concern regarding right side tire wear. There was additional concern over rubber from the tires not being worked into the Bristol Motor Speedway's concrete surface that would have provided the extra grip the race cars required.

After conferring with NASCAR over the situation, Goodyear trucked in approximately 1,300 tires from their Charlotte-North Carolina center on Saturday which featured a harder compound. By the end of the racing weekend late Sunday afternoon the general consensus was the back up plan worked out very well.

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A giant WHAT'S-UP goes out to driver Jennifer Jo Cobb and team owner Rick Russell over their start and park argument just minutes prior to Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Russell claims that there was a team meeting last Friday where he explained that they would have to start and park at Bristol due to the high cost of repairing the crash damage on team's only race car after it was caught up in a wreck the week before at Las Vegas. He also claimed that's why he didn't purchase race tires and hire a pit crew for the Bristol event because he knew in advance that start and park status was going to become a reality and it made more sense to save the one car for next week's race at the Auto Club Speedway in California which he had already entered. He further claimed that Cobb and her crew chief, Steve Kuykendall, purchased tires and hired a pit crew for Bristol without is knowledge.

On the other side of the argument, Cobb admits that she had heard some "rumblings" about start and park status at Bristol but wasn't actually informed of the decision until literally minutes before the start of the race. She later said "I have a commitment to my sponsors, the fans and to NASCAR that I am not a start and park driver. I'm really serious about this." She further claims that Russell allegedly said that if she didn't comply with the start and park order he would have NASCAR black flag her. It was further alleged that an angry Cobb, along with her crew chief and the crew members they hired, left. In the extreme last minute Russell had Chris Lawson suit up and get into his car. Lawson started 41st, ran four laps and Russell collected $16,725 in prize money which basically covered the cost of repairs from the Las Vegas wreck the week before.

At the beginning of the 2011 season Russell's 2nd Chance Motorsports and Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing formed an alliance. The plan was to run at least the first five races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in hopes of landing sponsorship for the full season. It now appears that this racing marriage is heading for divorce. Russell has already announced that Tim Andrews will be in his car next week in California and also announced plans to file a breach of contract suit against Cobb. Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, Cobb announced that she will be in California next Saturday driving the #41 car for Rick Ware Racing.

What we have here are two racing organizations that are financially strapped due to sponsorship issues. At this point neither party can really afford to pay attorney's fees to resolve their differences in court. Perhaps Cobb put it best with her suggestion that said "let's just part ways, everybody moves on and let's go racing."

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The final WHAT'S-UP from the weekend goes to Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr who received a penalty from NASCAR, during Saturday's Nationwide Series race, for being in the wrong position prior to a double file restart. Between the presence of the spotter, crew chief and any other team member watching from pit road, it begs the question: exactly how did something like that go unnoticed?

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The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to the special music for Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers played during driver introductions last Sunday. The Bristol Motor Speedway again asked the drivers to pick their own special music to accompany them as they walked out on the stage.

Johnson and Vickers thought it would be fun to pick each other's music and keep it a secret. Johnson was introduced to the fans to the sound of "The Thong Song" by Cisco. However that paled in comparison to Vickers being surprised with Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" when he was introduced.

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