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If it's Thursday, it must be Bristol...or still Las Vegas? And LA next week, then Martinsville, Texas and Kansas: Whew!

 A familiar sight at Bristol: Kyle Busch first across the finish line. He's won five of the last 10 Sprint Cup events here. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Maybe it is time for NASCAR to convert this fleet of Sprint Cup and Nationwide haulers over to natural gas, like Jack Roush says he'd like to do.
   With stock car teams criss-crossing the country like this – Daytona to Phoenix to Las Vegas to Bristol to Los Angeles to Martinsville, Va., then Fort Worth and Kansas City – maybe owners and drivers ought to look into converting their airplanes to natural gas too.
   This stuff is getting expensive.

   And that's even before track boss Jerry Caldwell cranks things up for this weekend's full-contact stock car racing, Saturday's 300 and Sunday's 500.
   In fact, maybe it's time to add up the cars that have been destroyed in action in the opening month of the NASCAR season. And to start considering all the money being poured into the new electronic fuel injection computerized systems this season….
   Greg Biffle, though he hasn't won in a while, is atop the Sprint Cup tour standings heading into the Food City 500. And he credits new crew chief Matt Puccia.
   Tony Stewart, who has won six of the last 13 tour events, including the Las Vegas 400 in dominant fashion, had a miserable time here last August. That weekend he qualified dead last…while teammate Ryan Newman won the pole. That weekend was a turning point for Stewart and his team; they got hot the very next week out, at Atlanta, and they haven't cooled off since.

    Lonely at the top: crew chief Chad Knaus, lost in NASCAR's appeals court, now one final appeal, to John Middlebrook (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   However this track – concrete, like Dover, Del. – hasn't been a great one for Stewart. On the other hand it's been great for Steve Addington, his new crew chief. Over the last 16 concrete races at Bristol and Dover, Addington has scored four fours, six top-threes and nine top-10s. And Addington's drivers (Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch) have done that leading: 1,398 laps to be precise.
   For Stewart himself, though, has no wins in those 16 (but two second-place finishes), and half the time he's finished 20th or worse.
   Looks like a good benchmark coming up for Addington atop Stewart's pit box here. "I told Steve I don't care what package you put in the car, just make sure it isn't what we ran the last two races," Stewart says.
   "Bristol you've got to have everything go your way. If you have one hiccup, it's hard to recover. We've been all over the board, feast or famine. It's hard to have a good day."

   Don't think this is going to turn out well. But it's typical Bristol (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Two parts of the deal here, Addington says: a car's front-end geometry, and making sure you don't eat up the front tires; and pit stops.
   Well, that and the incredible pace of action: "Stuff happens so fast at Bristol, you just have to stay focused on that and not let any outside distractions get to you, especially on green-flag runs," Addington says. "You have to be on top of it… and have in your mind 50 laps before a caution are you going to pit or  hold your track position?
    "You have such a short time from the time a caution comes out to decide. So you've got to have that in the back of your mind the whole time."

   And the Busch brothers themselves? Bad luck in Vegas for both.  Bad luck so far this season for Kurt Busch. Not much better for Kyle Busch, after that spectacular start at Daytona.
   This fast concrete half-mile has been a good stop for both Busches over the years. And if they don't do well here, it may be time to start asking some questions.
   Carl Edwards? The man who had by far the best overall record over the 2011 season has gone winless for more than a year now, oddly. Though team owner Roush says he wants his men to gamble more this season and win more, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne has so far played it rather conservatively.
   Denny Hamlin was surprisingly strong at Daytona and he won at Phoenix, but Hamlin fell flat at Vegas, finishing a woeful 20th. And it's been a while since he showed much punch here; plus he's still looking for his first win.


   And if Kyle Busch doesn't win Sunday's Food City 500.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Among the other story lines this week:
   -- Brian Vickers, who will be making his first start of the season. Vickers, idled when Team Red Bull closed down at the end of 2011, has a six-race deal with Michael Waltrip, to run at tracks where teammate Mark Martin is sitting out. That's both Bristols, both Martinsvilles, and both New Hampshires.
  -- Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. After NASCAR's three-man appeals board (Goodyear's Leo Mehl, Bowman Gray Stadium's Dale Pinilis, and USAC's John Capels) Tuesday upheld Knaus' six-race suspension, team owner Rick Hendrick said he would appeal to the sport's final arbiter, John Middlebrook, the former General Motors executive. In Middlebook's only other appeal since getting the post, he upheld most of the 2010 penalties against Clint Bowyer and crew chief Shane Wilson of the Richard Childress team, for chassis infractions at Loudon, N.H.
   -- X-Games star Travis Pastrana is to run here Saturday evening (6:15 p.m. EDT) in the K&N Pro Series East. Pastrana's NASCAR Nationwide debut is set for April 27 at Richmond.
  -- On the fan front, here's a warning: "There are speed detecting cameras in Piney Flats, near Burger King; so if you are staying in Johnson City please be aware of the changes in speeds on 11-E. If you are traveling to Johnson City from Bristol on 11-E, the 55 mph speed limit now begins just past the Blountville/Bluff City exit (just past BMS) and continues to the Charlie Worley Bridge. Once you cross the bridge the speed becomes 45 mph, which continues until just past the Food City in Piney Flats, at which time it becomes 55 mph again. The speed is reduced to 45 mph again at the bridge at Boone Lake."

   Jimmie Johnson and Family. He's won at Bristol, but it hasn't been a great track for him over the years (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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