Bristol plus race for Chase means frantic pace
When NASCAR last visited Bristol Motor Speedway, the Busch Series race was memorable for a snow delay. The Nextel Cup race was memorable for the beating and banging on the track and for the pushing and shoving on pit road.
Kurt Busch bumped his way past Matt Kenseth to take the lead and go on to what has been his only win so far this season. Then, Kenseth got into Jeff Gordon on the last lap as the two were battling for position.
Kenseth approached Gordon to apologize on pit road after the race, only to get shoved by a disgruntled Gordon. Needless to say, many in the stands will be hoping for more of the same this time around.
They probably won't get it, though. Well, at least not the pushing and shoving from the same drivers. Busch, though, will be on a mission to add to his impressive Bristol résumé.
And considering he's 279 points out of 10th and somewhere beyond a long shot to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup at this point, there's no reason not to be gunning for Victory Lane.
"We've run short on our team to make the Chase, so there's no sense in holding back. We're just going to let everything rip and see where we wind up," Busch said. "We hope to gain points. The last few weeks, we haven't gained the points that we needed, with a couple of pit road calls [that didn't work], and of course last week, we ended up cutting a tire and hitting the fence.
"So, things have been up, things have been down for us. But we're not giving up. We're going to keep driving as hard as we need to to gain the points because the fat lady isn't singing yet."
No, but she's certainly clearing her throat rather loudly where Busch's hopes are concerned. But if there's one place where the luck of the draw conceivably could help Busch, it's Bristol.
A driver minding his own business can get taken out in a wreck and buried deep in the field in an instant. Still, at 279 points back, it's probably too much for Busch to ask to expect that much trouble to befall the drivers ahead of him.
He said the only way to approach Bristol is to expect the unexpected.
"With just the way the sheer volume of cars on such a little track presents problems in all directions, you've just got to roll with it," Busch said. "You can't get too excited when somebody bumps into you by accident or purposely, because if you get excited about it, then you're not driving the car at the proper pace to try to go to Victory Lane. So, just kind of roll with it."
Kevin Harvick, who made it clear at Bristol back in March that he isn't a Busch fan, finished second to his nemesis. Everyone wondered whether he'd get close enough to bump Busch's Dodge out of the way, but it never happened.
Based on how both run there, it will be no surprise if the race comes down to the two of them yet again. That's fine as far as Busch is concerned.
"He likes to throw a lot of smoke and mirrors, and he has to do that to cover up something of his heart," Busch said. "I don't know what he's got going on with me, but I don't look around for him. I don't look around specifically for anybody.
"Whatever it takes to get the Miller Lite Dodge up front is what I'm worried about. If I have it pass the 29 [Harvick] to do it, I'll pass him clean, and that's the respected racer that I think I've proven to most of the drivers."
Harvick also finished second (to Kyle Busch) in the snow-interrupted Busch Series race, showing he clearly knows his way around the facility.
With drivers fighting to get into the Chase, some expect things to be more frantic than usual, but Harvick doesn't buy that argument, mainly because he thinks an increase isn't possible.
"I don't think it can be any more frantic," Harvick said. "You're just on the edge the whole time there trying to get everything you can out of it. There's not a whole lot of room to move around. That's one of those places where I don't think it can get any more frantic. You just do what you have to do and go for it."
Another driver who will be doing just that is Tony Stewart, who led a race-high 245 laps at Bristol in March. His 12th-place finish wasn't indicative of how well he ran, so it will come as no surprise if he's around the front all night.
Like Harvick, he doesn't expect things to be any crazier than usual.
"I don't think it'll be any different. I still think when it comes to racing, guys are simply just racing," Stewart said. "I think at the end of the day they look at the point standings, but for the most part, the whole time you're out there, you're worried about winning the race or doing as well as you can. I really don't think people's mind-sets will change."
Lest fans fear that means things will be calm, the reality is that the normal mind-set at Bristol is different from how it is just about anywhere else. So it really doesn't have to change to ensure a pressure-packed race.
"You just don't have time to relax. Everything happens so fast," Stewart said. "At the end of the day when the race is done and your adrenaline wears off, you're worn out. But when you're in the car and the adrenaline's pumping, you don't get in that smooth, calm rhythm that you do at a place like Michigan or California where you've got big, sweeping corners and long straightaways.
"There's no time to relax. You don't get that luxury at Bristol. It's standard short-track racing."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine, which has a Web site at www.scenedaily.com.