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Another Bristol sellout, and this one was like the Bristol of old, with plenty of action, and a tight finish

  Kyle Busch: After his fourth win of the season, the NASCAR title contender gave this checkered flag to a fan in the jam-packed grandstands (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   It was an electric finish, on a slam-bam Saturday night at Bristol, and the sellout crowd of 165,000 got its money's worth.
   For most men trying to make the 12-man Sprint Cup title chase, the Sharpie 500 was an exercise in frustration. Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya….most had big problems.
   But not Kyle Busch and Mark Martin. And this was just what both men needed, in their own battles to make NASCAR's championship playoffs.
   Newcomer Marcos Ambrose, a ball of fire on road courses, although erratic on bigger tracks, had a career-best third. "And," Martin said, "I was so close to losing it there at the end at one point, Marcos was just about to win this one."
   So it was a very good night for NASCAR….and it may have been just what the sport needed too, another good race, on a week that included a special White House tour.
   If President Barack Obama was watching this one, he might well want to helicopter down to Richmond in a couple of weeks and check out the final race to the chase.
   After Johnson had pit stop problems early, Martin dominated the three-hour race. But Busch's pit crew won a key exchange to give Busch track position. Busch chose the outside lane on each of the final restarts, and Martin couldn't quite make a pass on the inside.
   After the win, Busch did the unusual – he took the checkered flag and gave it to a female fan in the stands. "She was wearing a Kyle Busch tee-shirt and she was in tears, and the guy with her was wearing a Kyle Busch jacket, so I tried to give the flag to her," Busch said. "I hope she got it."

   Another Kyle Busch smokey burnout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Martin and Busch were effusive in their praise of each other after the hard-fought finish.
   "It's fun when you're able to race around the guys you respect and respect you back," Busch said.
   "I talk to Mark all the time. He is one of the closest drivers I've been around since I got here, Mark and Jeff Burton.
   "Mark was just flawless, that car was fast. We just got track position at the end. Mark had the best car all night.
   "But, gosh, what an honorable race car driver. He didn't let me win the race, but he certainly didn't take it from us.
   "I know the guys on that team, and I know how badly they want to win."
    A series of late crashes set up a four-lap sprint to the finish, with Busch leading Martin, after having won a pit road battle a while earlier.
    Martin tried Busch on the inside several times, and got door to door at times, but Martin couldn't quite get clear to finish the pass. And Busch crossed the line half a length in front.
   "I tried to give Mark all the room he needed," Busch said.
   Martin, in fact, is driving for the same team that Busch once drove for.
    For Johnson the night was a disappointment: "We had the fastest car out there, we should be in victory lane. It was just a bummer we had something on pit road screw us up. So I'm just really disappointed."
   Busch said he'd done the math before the race and figured he needed to score at least 147 point here, at Atlanta and Richmond to make the playoffs. That's about a sixth place finish.
    "And we earned 190 here," Busch said.
   But is Busch really having fun at this? After last weekend's run-in with Brian Vickers, Busch was criticized for not handling his emotions better. And Vickers said he didn't think Busch was really having that much fun with his life here.
   Busch says he understands the problem.
   "I grew up in Vegas and won 35 races a year," he explained. "I'm a guy who loves to win. There's nothing more for me than to win.
   "But I'm usually cooled off by the time I get off the plane and get back home.
   "Unfortunately there are a lot better ways for me to handle things."
    Ironically it was here in the spring race where Busch ripped his crew after a problem pit stop cost him a win, after leading 378 laps.
    "Sometimes I feel like I let the team down when I don't win," Busch said. "It's not that I didn't win, it's that we didn't win."

  Kyle Busch (18) gave Mark Martin plenty of room to make the inside pass, but Martin couldn't quite pull it off (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Gordon was never a factor, and each time his crew made a chassis adjustment things seemed to get worse; he wound up 23rd, and not very happy.
   Montoya was making a strong bid for the lead late but cut a tire and faded to 25th.
   Tour leader Tony Stewart had a miserable night, but he was game to talk about it after the race:   
   "This was like an episode of The Twilight Zone," Stewart said.
    First, Stewart's radio got screwed up, and he couldn't hear crew chief Darian Grubb. The problem turned out to be Stewart's making; he changed channels before the race to talk to teammate Ryan Newman and forgot to switch channels back.
    "Darian called on the radio, and they thought I could hear him the whole time, which I couldn't," Stewart said. "I couldn't hear him at all."
    Obviously that made it difficult for Stewart and Grubb to tune the car. Stewart wound up 33rd, 11 laps down.
    "How it started was I switched my frequency on my radio over to Ryan's (Newman) channel to wish them luck," Stewart said. "But I didn't go back to my channel. Every channel I went to it was still them. And then I switched to the second radio, which is our backup radio, and I hadn't even touched it, and it was them.
    "It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
    "So the first 200 laps I'm listening to Ryan and his dad, his spotter. That's what I was hearing on the radio.
    "Then we had a short in the wiring harness to the ignition boxes. We thought it was the safety-kill switch, because the light came on. It was real sporadic. They finally got one of the junctions in the ignition box back together.
    "But nobody gave up, or was yelling and screaming. Everybody handled it well.
     "That's the first fire drill we've had to go through during a race, and I thought – considering -- everybody did a good job."
   Things didn't go any better for teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, who inadvertently tangled and crashed. Bowyer managed to get repairs and finished 21st; Harvick was out of it, 38th.
    "I'm not really sure what happened, but it's pretty unfortunate," Bowyer said, rather upset.
   "I got into the back of Clint and tried to check up, and let him get everything gathered up," Harvick said. "I'd just got in the gas a little bit sooner than he did…and I think Jamie McMurray got me from behind, not his fault. Normally in that situation you don't check up for somebody, but I wanted to make sure Clint had plenty of room. I didn't want to be the one to ruin his chase. I was trying to give him a little extra room and wound up crashing myself."

      Kyle Busch (18) and Mark Martin a blur at the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Bristol of old? What race

Bristol of old? What race were you watching, were you watching on TV?
The side by side was like a merry-go-round for most of the race. The variable banking has manipulated the competition to even things up.
What a disgrace!

Just what is "manipulating

Just what is "manipulating the competition," anyway? How is it bad when more, not fewer, cars are actually fighting for the win?

I am not a Martin fan..as far

I am not a Martin fan..as far as I am concerned Martin is an older version of Kyle Busch. Martin has always been a whiner, complainer, and he throws his team and himself under the bus when he doesn't have a good race. I understand it when a driver is frustrated, upset, and in the moment..but again if you listened to Martin's in car audio during the cautions and red flag at Bristol .. he was complaining..whining..about the race...the accidents and the caution flags. If the races went as Martin wishes them to go when he is out front all we would see is one car half a mile out in front and the rest of the field going around and around and around and around. Heck I can watch my washing machine spin cycle. It's a race people..and not unlike everyday life the drivers have to go through all the ups and downs..red and yellow flags, flat tires, spins, bad handling cars..and the best man wins. When he does have a good race he is all smiles ..he is the epitome of Busch. They are both great drivers..They both need to take a page from Tony Stewart. Stewart has always spoke his mind..and been his own worst enemy until recently. Now Stewart has made friends with himself and it shows. Whether Stewart gets the championship or not this year his season has been more then stellar. I love it that Stewart speaks his mind..shows compassion..but it's also good he has learned to "get out of his own way" and make the best with what he has .. it's more then long overdue for Martin to learn to live with himself..and Busch needs to do it now so he won't end up with the "Mark Martin stigma" of being the GREATEST DRIVER TO HAVE NEVER WON A CHAMPIONSHIP,

Is it really a sellout if you

Is it really a sellout if you sell tickets at half price for the sake of a sellout?
As a season ticket holder, that makes me mad. They lose money on some tickets in order to keep the streak alive, yet I pay full price.
And I could write a whole article on how this isn't at all like the old Bristol. Cars wrecking due to stupidity doesn't make it like the old Bristol. Hard skillful racing makes it like the old Bristol with a configuration that separates the men from the boys, not a configuration that is made for parity and looks like a merry-go-round!

It is a sellout when Bruton

It is a sellout when Bruton Smith says it is, even when they have to sell tickets at 50% off, or bulk-buy tickets for members of his various companies (which is how he usually sells out his tracks), or both.

The old Bristol and the new one still have a lot in common. Cars wrecked due to stupidity as well as because the place is unraceable then as well as now. "A configuration made for parity" - as if parity is a bad thing (it never is) and as if this configuration really creates parity.

It took two-abreast restarts to get some competitive depth into Bristol. What does that say about the place?

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