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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: “New Kyle,” Danica for Real?, And Was RPM Right For Ambrose

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Who’s that man behind the wheel of the M&M’s Toyota? Some recent maturity during interviews has fans questioning what’s happened to the once-temperamental Kyle Busch.

*FACT: Kyle Busch Shocks the Fans*

Kyle Busch causing NASCAR fans to drop their jaws isn’t all too uncommon. However, he usually does it by driving on the cuffs of being out of control – not in interviews.

That all changed, though, during a surprising turn of events on Sunday where Busch’s off-track actions were just as important as what happened on it. For when his engine blew up on lap 109, just a few short moments after hitting the wall those M&M’s decals on his No. 18 Toyota were hot, his point lead shot and the weekend a total disaster. After pulling it in the garage, everyone expected the typical, Busch flies-off-the-handle or refuses to comment post-DNF conversation that’s become the hallmark of his seven-year tenure in Sprint Cup.

It never happened.

Even after enduring that miserable day, with both Goodyear and his engine department failing him Busch brought a calm, cool and collected attitude to the horde of media outside his hauler. Unlike the past, Busch gave props to his team and car on a good start, brushing off the badness while wishing his teammates luck for the remainder of the race. It was an attitude that was unexpected, causing Twitter to nearly explode due to the excessive amounts of tweets from fans and media sharing their surprise at such maturity.

In recent years, Busch’s attitude has been cited among several reasons he has been unable to win a Sprint Cup Series championship. But now, the Las Vegas native has his own Truck Series team, became a married man over the offseason and seems poised under all types of pressure so far in 2011. The “New Kyle” that has been advertised for the last two seasons is finally coming to NASCAR.

A fan, tweeting to a fellow racing journalist after the interview summed the moment up best: “It’s freakin me out how much Kyle is more pleasant. I was comfortable w/not liking him. Tell him 2 stop so I can still hate him.”

Sorry, fan. Don’t expect him to.

*FICTION: It was a Spotless Day on Pit Road*

Gas and go for everyone at Las Vegas? Hardly. The pit crew of Greg Biffle’s Ford had a less than stellar day Sunday, fuddling with the new Sunoco gas can rules that leave no catch can man and a tougher refueling process overall. After running much of the first half of the race up front and inside the top 10, Biffle’s crew rattled off slower pit stops and the driver ran out of gas twice.

How bad was it? Biffle was on pit road seven times for a total of 5:20 – which includes the entire time from the pit in line to the pit out line – compared to third-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya, who was on pit road for a total of 3:28 over five pit stops. Biffle wound up finishing 28th after coasting to pit road with no fuel, then spending two laps there trying to get his Ford to start.

Tony Stewart also had problems with his crew late in the race. Leading a race-high 163 laps, his day was nearly destroyed after serving a penalty for leaving pit road with an air gun attached to his left rear wheel. Using two-tire strategy to get back up front, Stewart rallied to second but the problem ultimately proved his downfall: on the final round of green-flag stops, the No. 14 Chevy was forced to slap on four tires which gave Carl Edwards a chance to take two, gain track position and ultimately the win over Smoke.

*FACT: Danica is Here to Party*

Following a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday, Danica Patrick earned a higher result than any other female driver in the history of the sport. That’s 62 years we’re talking about, an impressive accomplishment no matter how you feel about her exploits up to this point. Albeit, Patrick did gamble on fuel, but nonetheless the top-5 finish capped off a strong day.

So what happens now? To me, this much is clear: in her third start of a 2011, part-time NASCAR Nationwide Series season Patrick earned her first career top-5 finish and continued an upward trend in the sport. Her contract with JR Motorsports runs out at the end of this season, but if she can keep rattling off performances like the one on Saturday don’t be surprised to see her renew and even wind up racing NASCAR full-time once the IndyCar contract with Andretti Autosport runs out.

*FICTION: Ambrose Move Was a Bad Idea*

Last year, when Marcos Ambrose announced his move from a ride at JTG Daugherty Racing to financially-strapped Richard Petty Motorsports most thought he was borderline insane.

But perhaps “ingenius” was the right word to use instead? So far, Ambrose certainly hasn’t done worse, a fourth-place finish Sunday netting the best performance on an oval for this Tasmanian since Bristol in August of 2009. For the loop data nerds like me, check this out: Ambrose now has an average running position of 19.591, better than the likes of Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. Ambrose has also spent 57.9% of the first three races inside of the top 15; only 11 drivers have spent more time at the front of the field.

Most important of all, this once-struggling driver left Las Vegas 17th in points, collecting his first top-5 finish since the road course of Watkins Glen last August. At this pace, who needs Kasey Kahne at RPM? Ambrose should be able to at least rival Kahne’s recent points performances from the last few seasons with the No. 9 team.

“Contact Kyle Ocker”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/30117/