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Has there ever been less drama heading toward the Chase cutoff than this year?
Clint Bowyer added to his lead in a big way on Saturday night at Bristol with a fourth-place finish, taking advantage of Mark Martin's poor 23rd-place effort.
Bowyer now holds the final Chase spot by exactly 100 points over Jamie McMurray, who moved up to 13th but only gained five points on Bowyer.
With only Atlanta and Richmond remaining before the 12-man Chase field is set, it's doubtful anyone will be able to overtake Bowyer for the final spot.
Martin fell to 14th, 101 points behind Bowyer, and Ryan Newman (15th) is 118 points back.
Bowyer's position is the only one that could even potentially change hands. Greg Biffle, in 11th place, is now 235 points up on McMurray.
"We've got two races to go," Bowyer said. "Two good racetracks. I love Atlanta – run well there – and I love Richmond –run well there. With any luck at all, we'll be in this thing."
Bowyer called his 100-point lead over McMurray "a little cushion" but noted McMurray finished ahead of him at Bristol.
"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing," he said. "If we do that, I don't think they can catch us."
It didn't sound like McMurray was ready to declare himself as a Chase contender, either.
"I haven't paid any attention to it," he said. "That's a lot of stress that you can put on yourself when you're worried about points.
"I'll let (crew chief) Bono (Manion) and those guys worry about it and we'll just worry about racing the car."
Brad Keselowski pulled off one of the most memorable moments of the NASCAR season on Saturday night when he took the microphone during driver introductions at Bristol and proclaimed over the track's public address system, "Kyle Busch is an ass!"
The comment drew a roar and thunderous cheers from the estimated 155,000 fans, many of whom were upset with Busch for intentionally wrecking Keselowski in the Nationwide race on Friday night.
So what prompted Keselowski to share his feelings in an unusual setting?
"Juan Montoya and I were talking about it (before driver introductions), and he said I wouldn't do it," Keselowski said. "I said, 'Hell yeah I'll do it!' The preacher was standing there and I said, 'Hey man, would you be offended if I said, 'Ass?'
"He said, 'No, man! 'Ass' is in the Bible.' I said, 'Thank you very much!'"
The response drew one of the loudest crowd reactions in memory – if not the loudest. It measured 104.2 decibels on SB Nation's noise meter (a record).
"It's all cool, man," Keselowski said after finishing 19th. "Just say what you mean and be real. They appreciate that."
Keselowski was lapped by Busch during the race and clearly didn't cut his rival any slack in the process, crowding him and refusing to give an inch until Busch was able to pull away.
"Hell yeah I raced him hard!" Keselowski said. "I was just having fun. If I was a little faster, it would have been a lot more fun."
Busch, asked for his reaction to Keselowski's comment, said sarcastically, "Who? I don't know who you're talking about."
Told Keselowski was in the 12 car, Busch replied, "I saw it, but I passed it."
Though Keselowski found himself in the midst of controversy again, the Penske Racing driver observed that he has "a reputation for wrecking without causing wrecks."
"It's weird," he said. "I think I have a reputation (because of) bumping. Hell, we all bump. It's just some of us get away with it, some of us don't."
The Penske driver remained 25th in points in his first full Sprint Cup season. He said his No. 12 team was consistent, but consistently average.
"We just need a little bit of speed every week," he said. "Then we'd be in contention to run up front and win these races."
It's Bristol, baby! And NASCAR's greatest spectacle is finally here.
After an amazing driver introductions, in which Brad Keselowski proclaimed, "KYLE BUSCH IS AN ASS" over the track P.A. system, the crowd is fired up here and ready to go.
This race should be electric tonight. Chat along with us now!
Click the auto-refresh button to make sure you see all the latest comments.
You may not be able to see tonight's race if you're in certain markets, thanks to preseason NFL games.
Here's the news from ABC:
The following markets will have alternate viewing options for ABC's telecast of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol tonight (DT2 = Digital Tier 2):
Detroit (WXYZ) – Will show 7:30 - 9 p.m. on its DT2 channel then switch to primary channel at 9 p.m. due to coverage of annual Woodward Dream Cruise
Houston (KTRK) – Will show entire race on its DT2 channel due to coverage of Houston Texans preseason game.
Richmond, Va. (WRIC) – Will show entire race on WUPV-TV (CW station in market) due to coverage of Washington Redskins preseason game.
Weslaco, Texas (KRGV) – Will show entire race on its DT2 channel due to coverage of Dallas Cowboys preseason game.
Madison, Wisc. (WKOW) – Will show entire race on its DT2 channel due to coverage of Green Bay Packers preseason game.
LaCrosse, Wisc. (WXOW) – Will show entire game on its DT2 channel and in-market on CW station due to coverage of Green Bay Packers preseason game.
Wausau, Wisc. (WAOW) – Will show entire game on its DT2 channel and in-market on CW station due to coverage of Green Bay Packers preseason game.
NOTE: Joplin, Mo. (KODE) and St. Joseph, Mo. (KQTV) are both showing Kansas City Chiefs preseason games. Neither station has DT2 channel and due to limited alternate clearance options in the markets, race will not air in either market.
Brian Vickers will return to NASCAR and drive Red Bull Racing's No. 83 car next year, he said Saturday, but revealed that he had heart surgery last month to repair a hole in his heart.
Vickers said in addition to the blood clots discovered in his left leg and his lungs, doctors found a blood clot in his left hand – which meant he had a hole in his heart.
Given an option to either repair the hole with heart surgery or risk a future stroke, Vickers chose the surgery. During the process, doctors discovered Vickers had May-Thurner Syndrome, which occurs when a leg vein and artery pinch and can lead to blood clots.
To address the May-Thurner Syndrome, Vickers had a stent put into his leg which doctors told him will alleviate the problem.
They also said that when Vickers is finished taking blood-thinners in January, the driver will have no more risk of a blood clot than the average person.
Though he hasn't spoken to NASCAR about his return yet, Vickers said he'll be in the best shape of his life and doesn't expect any obstacles that would prevent getting on-track for Daytona.
Vickers said he's enjoyed his time away from the track, but the 26-year-old also said he missed the sport dearly.
"Sometimes you don't know how much you really love something until you don't have it," Vickers said. "And I really love driving race cars."
Vickers said he had no information on what Red Bull would do with current teammate Scott Speed and future teammate Kasey Kahne, saying he only learned of the Kahne deal by reading the Internet.
The driver said confidently that he will be in Red Bull's No. 83 car next season regardless.
"I have a new appreciation for life," he said. "I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited to race."
Vickers said that though he misses the track, he's been filling his time by taking advantage of a rare opportunity to relax. He's been boating, biking in Aspen and attended events like the Red Bull Air Race in New York.
He plans to take more time off before returning to racing, as the blood thinners prevent him from driving this season.
Being away from the track, however, made Vickers realize NASCAR is his greatest passion.
"What I love to do is race," he said. "I’ve definitely been missing that need for speed, the competition, the people in the industry that are my friends here."
Love him or hate him – and let's face it, the majority of fans hate him – Kyle Busch is great for NASCAR.
Yes, he's immature. Yes, he's an ass.
But in a world of vanilla corporate pitchmen, Busch's antics provide the character and drama that fans need to get excited about the sport.
He's more likely to disgust you and make you want to punch your TV than make you want to high-five or hug him, but Busch's tremendous talent and brash personality turn him into someone so easy to hate that you can't look away. You have to watch.
And that's very, very important for NASCAR, which needs all the eyes it can get right now.
Think about it.
If Jimmie Johnson is about to win a Cup race, you might turn your TV off in disgust. You might even skip the last few laps if you think he's about to head to Victory Lane.
But you can't turn off your TV when Busch is about to win. You have to see what he'll say or do next. Will he smash a guitar? Will he insult the fans?
Busch got out of his car on Friday night and made an exaggerated crying gesture at the tens of thousands of haters who were raining boos down upon him.
Classless. Arrogant. Not a role model for your children.
Yet at the same time, it was oh-so-entertaining and hilarious.
Here's a guy who 90 percent of fans in attendance wouldn't share their water with if they were stranded in a desert, and he has the balls to stand there and taunt them right back, then smirk at them in Victory Lane.
Go ahead and hate him. Let your blood boil. He brings it on himself. There's a reason a group of fans on Twitter refer to him as "Vile Kyle."
At the same time, though, you can't stop watching him. He gets all of us talking. He makes things interesting.
No one's saying you have to like him, but in an era when we're all crying out for more personality in the sport, let's hope Busch doesn't change his ways anytime soon.
Jimmie Johnson is thinking "sweep."
After getting his first career Bristol win in March, Johnson grabbed his first career Bristol pole on Friday evening, taking advantage of a good draw as the final car to qualify before the go-or-go-home drivers.
Johnson's lap of 123.475 mph was enough to bump Carl Edwards (122.937) off the pole just seconds after Edwards had snatched it away from Joey Logano (122.764).
It was also Johnson's first pole of the season.
"We definitely have things going right for us so far," Johnson said, expressing relief after discovering the 48 team's strategy had worked in his favor.
Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus had set the car up to run the bottom lane for qualifying, but as Johnson watched other drivers' laps from the top of his hauler, he noticed hardly any of his rivals were running the same line.
Edwards climbed from his car feeling confident that he would start Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race from the top spot, especially after seeing Johnson attempt his lap on the bottom lane.
And then? Johnson's name was suddenly atop the board.
"I couldn't believe Jimmie got the pole running the bottom (lane)," Edwards said. "When I was watching the big screen, I thought, 'Oh, he's on the bottom, he's screwing this up.'"
Tony Stewart qualified fourth, followed by David Reutimann, who was fighting off either the flu or food poisoning earlier in the day and missed part of the first practice.
Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
The qualifying session was notable for Jeff Gordon's rare miscue – a spin and slight bump of the wall on his warmup lap.
At the sight of the 24 car spinning, the fans dotting the Bristol stands erupted in loud cheers.
"I'm still trying to figure it all out," Gordon said. "I was going for it, and I just got in the gas too hard. The back end came around."
Since Gordon hadn't officially started time for his lap yet, he was allowed to return to pit road and try again.
"I knew not to go across the start/finish line, so I came to pit road," he said. "They put us on the five-minute clock to put tires on. We had some scuffs – unfortunately we didn't have stickers (new tires). That's not going to be a very good lap. ... But right now, I'll take it for sure."
Gordon's lap put him 26th, just ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who walked away without comment after his lap.
Other notables included Mark Martin (13th) and Clint Bowyer (24th), who are vying for the last Chase spot, and past winners Kyle Busch (19th), Kurt Busch (20th) and Kevin Harvick (28th).
Among the drivers who had to qualify on speed, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Green, Scott Riggs, David Gilliland, Michael McDowell, Todd Bodine and Casey Mears made the race.
Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Kevin Lepage, JJ Yeley, Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss all failed to qualify for the race.
Kyle Busch is No. 1 in driver rating at Bristol and won the Camping World Truck Series race at the track on Wednesday night.
But he was in a peevish mood on Friday thanks to a poor practice session which had him just 26th on the charts.
Nevertheless, Busch answered all of the media's questions and unleashed a few zingers along the way.
Here are some of Busch's comments:
On his day: "It is what it is. Just here making laps at Bristol with a new tire again."
On the Nationwide race: "We're not very good. So don't expect the 18 car to win. Hopefully we can just get a top five."
On the Chase: "We're playing defense now. Every week, we seem to fall further and further back. Hopefully we make it. Couldn't tell you (why)."
On which of NASCAR's changes he wishes had never happened: "The new car."
On whether Ryan Newman races people too hard: "It's an accurate assessment. Everybody says the same thing. Nobody confronted him. Joey did. You know that's what you get with Ryan Newman. ... You should be able to go talk to them and discuss and give your point of view and take their point of view and just kind of talk about it. Apparently though, it looked as though Ryan wasn't too interested in listening."
On what the proper racing etiquette: (sarcastically) "Go ask Tony Stewart what racing etiquette is supposed to be. He'll tell ya."
On whether he can "turn it on" in the Chase: "Not right now. We're working really hard. Dave (Rogers) works harder than anybody out here, I think. ... Every single week, we're always a tenth-and-a-half, two tenths off. We're trying to find it, trying to figure out where it's at and hopefully a good-handling race car will be better than a fast one here tomorrow night."
On how long he enjoys a victory like the Truck race he won on Wednesday: "The race I won is over with. It's gone, it's done. Now the focus is the Nationwide car and Cup car. ... That's it. It's gone. Time for the next one."
On his intro song for Bristol called "Rowdy Busch" by 2012 featuring Raytona 500: "Part of the proceeds go to the Kyle Busch Foundation. It's generous of those guys to do that for us. ... It's good, you know? It's a little short. There's a lot of repetition, so it's easy for people to remember and sing it themselves. Kind of like (Hanson's) 'MmmBop.' It's pretty cool, I guess. Jeff Gordon is in a song by a popular artist, but he doesn't have a song about himself."
Jeff Gordon was in his hauler changing out of his firesuit last week at Michigan when he saw Ryan Newman and Joey Logano arguing on TV.
Gordon wasn't on one side or the other. But when he heard Logano tell an interviewer that Newman was racing him too hard, Gordon knew Logano had made a mistake.
Not a mistake on the track, necessarily; but a mistake in trying to explain the "code" that few people outside of the drivers understand.
"A lot of us, when we first come into this sport, we go through this," Gordon said. "It's one of those things where you can think it and talk to your friends about it, but you don't say that on camera.
"And the reason you don't say it on camera is because people don't get that. Fans don't get it. Media don't get it. You can't say, 'He was racing me too hard' (because people respond), 'Whaaat? I thought you guys were supposed to race one another hard every single lap!'"
The truth is, the majority of drivers don't race each other hard every lap. There's simply no point in doing so during a long 500-mile race.
It's the Mark Martin philosophy: A driver is better off letting a faster car go on and pass him than try to race hard, which causes both drivers to lose valuable time to the leader.
"There's like a code, you know?" Gordon said. "It's like driver code. And what that is, is five laps into the race, it's not very smart to go out there and chop a guy or run a guy up the racetrack, take a guy three-wide – all of these things."
But Gordon acknowledged that drivers can race by many different codes, and Newman "is a guy who races hard all the time, every race, every lap."
Gordon said if someone took the paint and numbers off the cars, he could still tell which driver was in which car based on how hard someone races.
There are some guys who are extremely difficult to pass (like Newman), Gordon said, and others who will give plenty of racing room (like Martin).
So when fans and media talk about "racing too hard," it's somewhat of a misnomer. Drivers don't just cruise around during the race; it's more about respect for other drivers on the track.
"It's not about racing too hard," Gordon said, "it's just about how you're racing one another."
If you could only go to one race, there's one event most NASCAR fans say they would pick without hesitation.
No, it's not Indianapolis. It's not Talladega. It's not even the Daytona 500.
The No. 1 pick for fans who could only attend one race is the night race at Bristol.
More than 100,000 people packed into a half-mile oval that looks like the modern-day Roman Colosseum makes for quite a spectacle. And though it's not the hot ticket it once was, Saturday night's race promises to have the electric atmosphere Bristol's night race has become famous for.
Follow along here with news, updates and analysis from the track. And don't forget our live race chat on Saturday night.
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