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Fanning the Flames: Addressing Bristol & Analyzing Kyle Busch’s Achievement

I love picking on ESPN because they set themselves up for it. The NASCAR-specific crew is alright — it’s the “catch-all” stuff that burns them (or chafes me… whatever). It’s most recent self-gratifying bit of over-hyped narcissism is something called the weekly “Cross-Sport Power Rankings” on ESPN.com. Admittedly, I don’t know what it is exactly, or how athletes are nominated and ranked (nor do I care). I think it’s basically another concoction dreamed up by someone in Bristol, Conn., that means very little, if anything at all… but they have to fill web space with something, and this sort of mindless, meaningless junk is it. Watch one episode of ESPN’s SportsNation and you’ll understand what I mean.

Anyway, NASCAR’s own Kyle Busch ascended to the top of the Cross-Sport Power Rankings this week. The NBA’s and Team USA’s Kevin Durant, in what I think was an international exhibition performance against the mighty Spanish National Team, was second.

What struck me as appropriately daft about Busch being knighted by the all-powerful ESPN “all-star panel” (as it bills itself), is that in the video highlighting the list on ESPN.com, Kyle is granted this prestigious and ever-so-sought-after title because, in the words of video-host Bram Weinstein, Busch “pull[ed] a historic double, winning the Nationwide and Sprint Cup stops in Bristol.”

Hey Bram, you and your all-star panel may want to check the facts before firing up the webcam. Come to think of it, does ESPN not employ fact checkers for just this sort of blunder? What is this, “Wayne’s World?”

See ESPN, the reason Busch’s performance at Bristol was notable (I think “historic” is taking it a bit far), has to do with the fact that Busch won three races — Truck, Nationwide and Cup — not the Nationwide/Cup double, which has been done numerous times, dating back to the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Be that as it may, thanks for the rare tip of the Yankee’s-emblazoned cap, Worldwide Leader. Next time run the NASCAR-related script by Mike Massaro.

And by the way, you need to change a location on your 2010 NASCAR schedule page: The fourth race of the Chase is in Fontana, not Sonoma, as you have it listed.

And on that note, we’ll hit this week’s emails. It was a slow week from you, considering the events at Bristol. C’mon … pick me up guys. Bring it strong.

Let’s pick up where we left off, with everyone’s favorite Las Vegas native:

Q: Matt, I have a couple questions. First, when Kyle Busch beat Jamie Mac onto pit road, I’m confused. Isn’t the rule that you need to be single file when you get on pit road? I could be wrong. As far as Kyle’s ‘triple’, since only one other driver even had a shot at it (Brad Keselowski), it takes a bit of the glow away. Kyle winning all three races was, to me, like the New York Yankees winning the World Series, the college World Series and the Little League World Series. The first is impressive, the other two not so much. The boy can surely drive a racecar, but really? And, since the media insists on lumping every win he’s ever had in any of the series together, why don’t they do the same for all the other drivers who ever ran Trucks and Nationwide? — Sally Baker

A: Let me sort these out. Question 1: The rule coming to pit road is that drivers must be single file when they cross the pit road commitment line. Busch made his pass before they got there. And it was a pretty nifty pass, at that.

Question 2: As I said earlier, I consider Kyle’s triple a notable accomplishment more so than an “historical” one. Don’t get me wrong, it was impressive as could be, because he did have to beat three fields of professional drivers — and that’s where I disagree with your baseball analogy. Kyle beat pros in each event, not the local Saturday night yocals with “Bubba’s Body Shop” on a quarterpanel so sledgehammered-out that you can no longer read it. Plus, the fact he started at the rear of the field in the Truck race made it all the more noteworthy.

Question 3: I think the media notes Busch’s wins across all three series because he has so darn many of them. 78 touring series wins since 2004 is an amazing number. No other driver comes close in the period of time. One reason for that is no other driver has made as many starts over the three series, I mean, when was the last time we saw Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson even attempt a Nationwide race, much less a Truck show?

There are some exceptions in Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick. However, since 2004, Busch’s 78 wins in 467 starts trumps Harvick’s 42 victories in 431 races as well as Edwards’s 46 wins in 444 starts and Biffle’s 23 triumphs in 402 starts.

It’s a great talking point — how meaningful stats like these are — one that can be debated for hours. How do championships factor? What type of equipment were they running? What was the make-up of the fields? Isn’t Cup what really matters? You can come to your own conclusions, but Busch has won in 16.7% of the races he has entered since ’04. Edwards’ 10.7%, Harvick’s 9.7% and Biffle’s 5.7% don’t hold a candle.

Still, this needs to be said: Busch has to win at least one Cup title to be considered amongst the all-time greats. Yeah, I know Junior Johnson is a first-ballot badass with no titles in the bag and Mark Martin throws a frivolous element into my argument. However, when the gold-standard is seven titles and two active drivers have four each, you have to throw the ultimate hardware up on the mantle.

Q: Bristol’s attendance was listed as 155,000 on racing-reference.info. It holds 160,000. Is that number accurate? Can you give me one that is? Thank you Matt. — L. Benton, Johnson City

A: Monte Dutton estimated it at 152,000. I tend to take his word. I thought it was a nice crowd considering what we’ve seen over the last couple years. And I’d imagine the Kyle-Kes dust-up on Friday helped the walk-up gate on Saturday.

Thanks for sticking with me ’til the end. Enjoy your free Sunday afternoon.

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