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Hot/Not: Kyle Busch is hot now; will it last?

Rain drops were avoided all around NASCAR this weekend while hair pulling became a pit road sport. Meanwhile, two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates are heading in opposite directions. What gives? That & more in this week's H/N...

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HOT: Well, we've been here before.

Remember 2008, when the Tiffany & Co.-designed Sprint Cup championship trophy was ready to be carved with Kyle Busch's name? Then a 23-year-old Shrub, Busch had snapped off eight wins during the 26-race regular season and easily garnered the top seed for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. The championship stars had aligned for another Busch NASCAR title.

But quickly, Busch's 30-point cushion in the point standings faded. There was a crash at Loudon, and then an engine failure at Dover. He finished a lap off the pace in the third race at Kansas and later 29th in the halfway point at Martinsville. It was a humiliation in the clutch, a disappointment in the playoffs. Busch finished the season 10th in 2008 with plenty of blame to go around, both for his on-track demeanor and his team's race preparation.

Essentially, 2008 was a lesson in how a team's lack of maturity in pressure-filled situations can derail even the best during the 10-race sprint.

2011's regular season hasn't been identical to the 2008 version, but it surely has been close. With his win at Michigan on Sunday — notably, his first in Sprint Cup competition at the track — Busch is on target to start the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup as the top seed again. He has four wins (and said last week that believes he and his team have given away up to five wins) and now sits atop the Sprint Cup point standings while heading to the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway — a track where Busch has won four of the last five Sprint Cup races.

It's no secret that Kyle Busch is on a high-flying roll right now. He's the first to lock himself in the Chase and stands as the mid-August favorite to topple Jimmie Johnson's reign. The question now, though, is how Busch & his No. 18 team will respond when the lights of the Chase shine brightly on them.

NOT: You don't always get a stark contrast between teammates who are expected contenders for the championship, but Sunday's race at Michigan did just that. Denny Hamlin is fully aboard the struggle bus in the Sprint Cup Series and — despite me last week stating a case for his good odds to make the Chase — looks to be in deeper danger than thought. Hamlin didn't perform in the clutch last season at Homestead. Can he do it to simply make the Chase this year? Time will tell.

HOT: I made a last-minute dash to Sunday's race at Michigan (roughly a three-hour drive from the humble abode) after hearing the track offered $30 general admission seats in Turn 4. It was great idea on my part and proved a great idea for MIS, too. The three grandstands in Turn 4 dedicated to the GA folks were 80-90 percent full, while other seats in the middle pricing range sat empty. {ysp:more}

It makes you wonder — are the attendance problems due to NASCAR's product, or just a deep reflection of people not having the discretionary money? I tend to think the latter is the biggest issue facing attendance. Kudos to MIS for finding ways for fans to still get in the door...

HOT: It's of little importance to those not at the track, but Sunday's race at MIS was the first I've been to with the improved scoreboard. The full color pylon now shows the running order in a static list manner — a great improvement from the old scrolling format that used to show three drivers at a time. It's the little things...

HOT: There's been some discrepency from the race promoter of the Nationwide Series race at Montreal about the event's future there. If NASCAR has some good senses, they'll ensure that race happens. The crowds are great and the racing is even better. I hope you didn't miss it Saturday...

NOT: I'm not sure how Steve Wallace will finish a race during the rest of 2011. The guy simply drives over his head way, way too often (see: Montreal) and then resorts to deliberate blocking (see: Montreal). That will catch up to him — even if ESPN doesn't see any fault in his actions...

NOT: Speaking of Wallace, watching him get his hair pulled by Patrick Carpentier's crew chief on pit road will remain one of the funnier in-car videos of all-time. Hair pulling, though? Well, I think Jerry Baxter could've done a lot better...

HOT: Chad McCumbee won Sunday's ARCA Racing Series Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The track? A one-mile dirt oval. They'll race on another one at DuQuoin, Ill., on Sept. 5. That's pretty cool...

Enjoy your Bristol week, friends.

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