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Minter: Bristol Could be Pointers Vs. Winners

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 20 2009
Will there be fireworks at Bristol after the green flag drops this weekend? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Will there be fireworks at Bristol after the green flag drops this weekend? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Some Thursday Observations:

* The Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway has a history of being a “can’t miss” event for NASCAR fans. But there are worries in some quarters that the emphasis on the making the Chase will have some of the top drivers points racing and trying to avoid confrontation instead of banging fenders at Bristol as they did in years gone by.

Juan Pablo Montoya and others have all but admitted they’ve been points racing for some time.

But that also creates opportunities for drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., who are hopelessly out of the Chase hunt and can afford to do some old-style racing at Bristol. Then there’s the issue of the Car of Tomorrow, which hasn’t proven to produce the kind of excitement that fans have come to expect. (The COT does seem to have some of its better days on short tracks.)

Last week in Atlanta, Earnhardt was asked if fans can expect some old-fashioned fender-banging excitement at Bristol.

His answer: “Probably not.”

Maybe he’ll be wrong.

* Ron Hornaday Jr. came up short in his bid to win six straight Camping World Truck Series races, and the key moment might have come when truck team owner Billy Ballew decided to reunite his driver Kyle Busch with Richie Wauters, the crew chief who has directed most of his 12 career truck wins.

On Wednesday at Bristol, Busch looked like the truck racer he’s been in the past. He led 82 laps en route to a dominating victory at Bristol.

Afterward, Busch thanked Ballew for making the switch, and said he was confident coming into the race.

“We knew we were going to come here with a fast truck,” Busch said. “We’ve been fast every time we’ve been here. It was exciting to be able to capitalize like that.”

* One of the bigger questions heading into the rest of the weekend at Bristol is whether Busch can use the momentum from his truck victory to get back in the top 12 in Cup points and once again become a Chase contender. Busch, who is 15th, 70 points behind 12th-place Mark Martin, said his answer is “Yes.”

“I think the win does help because it just sets the tone for the weekend,” he said. “It kind of gives myself a little momentum rolling back into this deal.

“I’ve been frustrated lately thinking it’s been me that hasn’t been able to win races, and when you can get a vehicle that’s capable of winning and you win with it – it shows that you still have it and you can still do it….”

“We’ve been getting better on the Cup side. I feel like we have the opportunity to win these next three.”

If he does mount a charge it ought to stifle the debate over whether Busch’s busy race schedule detracts from his Cup effort. Going back as far as Bobby Allison and Harry Gant, it seems that drivers who race a lot tend to win a lot.

* Jeff Gordon and Sam Hornish Jr. bounced back strong from their nasty crash at Watkins Glen, with Gordon finishing second and Michigan and Hornish fifth, his second top-five in the past three races.

The violent wreck, shown over and over on TV, showed that the Car of Tomorrow does its job from a safety standpoint. But the footage also shows that the Glen is still ringed by steel guardrails, which disappeared from most tracks decades ago, replaced first by concrete and then by steel and foam energy-absorbing SAFER barriers.

SAFER barriers have become the standard at nearly every track that hosts a major touring series. Maybe the Glen doesn’t need SAFER walls everywhere, but surely there are spots where they would help.

* Mark Martin will make his 1,000th NASCAR start this weekend at Bristol. He’ll have 746 in Sprint Cup, 231 in the Nationwide Series and 23 more in the Camping World Truck Series.

In comments to reporters from Bristol, Martin said he didn’t put a lot of stock in simply starting races.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great, but I don’t view starting races as a h uge accomplishment,” he said.

A statistical subject he’ll like better will be coming up soon if he keeps running like he has of late.

His win record across the top three divisions in NASCAR shows 39 victories in Cup, including a series-leading four this season, a series-record 48 in the Nationwide Series and seven more in the truck series, putting him just six shy of the 100-win mark.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 20 2009
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