You think this guy has the victory lane pose down pat? Kyle Busch is still hot at Bristol (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Okay, this should be easy:
Bristol Wednesday night -- Kyle Busch.
Bristol Friday night -- Kyle Busch.
Bristol Saturday night -- Kyle Busch.
This wicked half-mile is typically a streaky track, where once a particular driver gets on a roll, he can dominate.
Cale Yarborough. Darrell Waltrip. Dale Earnhardt.
Now consider Kyle Busch.
In his 42 NASCAR races here -- Cup, Truck and Nationwide -- he's won 13 times. Oops, with Wednesday's victory, make that 14 times.
That's one of every three starts.
He's led nearly 3,000 laps. He's logged 23 top-fives.
He won the spring Nationwide race here. In 18 Nationwide starts at this track, he has five wins and 11 top-fives.
Unless Busch makes a mistake, as he did with a speeding penalty back in March taking him out of contention, he should be one of this weekend's heavy favorites.
THIS is how Kasey Kahne survived that March 500 to win, and THIS is how crew chief Kenny Francis played tire strategy, in a race where right-fronts seemed unusually vulnerable.
Bristol Motor Speedway at night is quite the sight (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile over in the Jimmie Johnson camp, it's a good thing Johnson has a big lead in the playoff standings, because he's had some bad luck lately. Last weekend at Michigan he crashed in practice and was forced to a backup car; then his engine blew just 100 miles in the 400.
Johnson will make the chase, and he's a heavy favorite to win a sixth championship when the playoffs open in Chicago in four weeks.
But Tony Stewart will be out the rest of the season, recovering from a bad break to his right leg in a sprint car wreck August 5th.
Mark Martin, whose 2014 plans are still up in the air, with Brian Vickers taking over his ride with Michael Waltrip next season, gets to showcase his talents at age 55 by subbing for Stewart most of the rest of this season (except for Talladega).
Vickers' comeback from that near-death experience is amazing. He finally capped that long comeback with a victory last month at New Hampshire, his first since 2009.
"I was diagnosed with blood clots in 2010," Vickers recounts. "Essentially my lungs stopped working, and I couldn't breathe, and went to the emergency room (in Washington D.C. that May).
" Luckily they figured out what it was before they completely stopped.
"It was a pretty painful experience. And I was in and out of the hospital for about a month, and then on blood thinners for six months, and out of the car for the rest of the season."
He came back for the 2011 season, but the Red Bull decided to close. So 2012 for Vickers was really up in the air.
Finding someone willing to take a risk him wasn't easy. Michael Waltrip did, though only part-time. "It was only six races at the time, but it was still a winning race car, with a crew and a crew chief I felt confident I could win with.
"I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity."
The New Hampshire win sealed the deal for a full-time ride.
Vickers' philosophy through all this:
"It's been a long road.... but don't ever give up. You never know what the future holds. You never know what's coming next.
"It's tough. That's part of life. There's always going to be ups and downs. You've just got to keep digging and not give up.
"I certainly can't take all the credit, because it's been the support of my family, and my friends, that helped through all that.
"Surrounding yourself with good people who have your back no matter what, who love you unconditionally, who support you through the tough times.
"Just keep fighting, keep digging, try to keep a positive attitude the best you can. You're not always going to have that, but you just do your best...and have faith the tides will turn."
Tony Stewart didn't have a great spring race at Bristol (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)