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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: The Busch Brothers Focus On Kicking Carl-Brad Off Center Stage

Isn’t it strange how for a series that has the longest season of any of the major U.S. professional sports, an off week feels like an eternity? So, it’s with much relish and gusto that I’m looking forward to Sunday’s 500-lapper at Thunder Valley, especially after three straight weeks of intermediate cookie-cutter tracks. And that’s where we’ll start this off-week version of Five Points To Ponder….

Short Trackitis – then another break

It sure is great to see Bristol and Martinsville on the immediate schedule: two of the best tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule today. This will be the 99th Cup race held at the venerable Bristol Motor Speedway, while the following Sunday’s race at Martinsville will be number 123. How many of those combined 222 races have been stinkers? Some, sure, but not very many so let’s hope the action on the track lives up to the hype. What is annoying, though, after enduring an early off week is that we’ll have another break after Martinsville for Easter. Don’t get me wrong – I totally understand breaking for an important holiday such as Easter – but it just kills all the feel good factor after (I hope) two weeks of rubbing, bumping, and banging.

Kyle Busch needs a good week

Pretty much the only “Rowdy” thing about Kyle Busch at the Sprint Cup level has been the ridiculous-colored M&M’s paint scheme he runs. He’s completed every lap in all four races – that’s 1,066 laps for those of a mathematical persuasion – for an “average” finish of 17th. But the good news for the younger Busch is that these sort of finishing positions were exactly what he didn’t pick up last year when his results represented a fair approximation of the old Ricky Bobby mantra, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” There is an argument that Kyle is spreading himself too thin with his arduous schedule at all three top NASCAR series, not to mention the fact he’s presiding over the fledgling Kyle Busch Motorsports organization, with ownership affecting his performance at the top echelon. Well if that’s the case, a return to Bristol is just what he needs. He won this race last year (his second win in the first five races of 2009) as he got off to a flying start, and he’ll no doubt be hoping that a great run at Bristol kicks things off in 2010. And speaking of Busches…

The Blue Deuce looks good

The Blue Deuce has started the season strong under the aegis of new crew chief Steve Addington. Kurt Busch led 33 laps in the Daytona 500; finished sixth the following week at Fontana; won the pole with a blazing fast lap at hometown Vegas before being caught up in a mess that was none of his making and, of course, he won the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend. For Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, this is his 10th straight year running the full schedule, and in that time he’s racked up some 332 starts and 21 wins – five of which have come on the high banks of Bristol (although none since 2006). That leaves the old Blue Deuce determined to be a big threat this weekend just as his predecessor in the No. 2 car – Rusty Wallace – was at the famed half-mile circuit. Last season, Busch won the “Non-Hendrick” Championship, finishing fourth in the overall standings, and on the very early evidence another similar finish certainly doesn’t look out of the question. I actually kind of want him to win this weekend, as I’m thinking a backward lap of Bristol would be close to impossible. At least we won’t be subjected to the ridiculous “snow angel” celebration last time he went to victory lane….

Team Edwards or Team Keselowski?

So, which side of the fence do you fall: Team Edwards or Team Keselowski? Well, after a week’s worth of discussion, I can honestly say I don’t even care anymore. It’s time to move on and put the incident in the rear-view. Nothing to see here, people – let’s move on.

But before I do, I wanted to highlight a quote from respected garage veteran Jeff Burton who, as usual, made a ton of sense: “Brad has got to learn that he doesn’t need to prove to the world that he’s a tough guy. He’s made the decision that he’s not going to cut anybody any slack. He’s made the decision that he’s going to race aggressively all the time. Those are the decisions he’s made, and he’s going to have to live with the consequences of that. There’s nothing wrong with giving a little bit, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a little bit. But if you’re going to only take, then you’re going to come out of the short end of the stick more times than not.”

It will certainly be interesting to see if the feisty Brad Keselowski modifies his behavior – for now, he claims he won’t. But one thing is for sure going forward: Kes can’t afford to make too many more enemies, especially when he’s 33rd in Cup points after four races.

With all that said, the feud has had a couple of useful side effects…

It’s Bristol, baby… but not quite as we know it

Word is that the marketing folks at Bristol have been working some serious overtime to ensure all 160,000 seats are filled this Sunday – using what happened at Atlanta as bait. After 13 straight years of sellouts, the record is in some jeopardy, which is a shame but no more than a sign of the times. Another change, which might just spice up proceedings, is that the speedway’s SAFER barriers have been extended to cover the walls coming out of turns 2 and 4. The net result of this is the racing surface will lose about three feet of racing room and at an already ludicrously confined circuit, this will only serve to make things a little testier come Sunday.

Roll on, Thunder Valley. Let’s hope the storm’s a good ‘un.