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Bristol Observations

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway:

• Not to take anything away from race winner Jeff Burton, but he was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that's all it takes.

• It was obvious that all three RCR cars would finish in the top five – they wound up finishing 1-2-3 – but what wasn't as obvious was that the 31 would take the checkers first. It was Kevin Harvick's race to lose and after bumping Tony Stewart, he did.

• When all three RCR crew chiefs had their drivers come in for tires during the caution that began on Lap 489, it was either going to be remembered as genius or as a huge blunder. I guess we all know how it turned out.

• After watching another dominating performance by Stewart, I wonder if when drivers look up and see the orange Home Depot Camry in their rearview mirror they get a feeling similar to the one that the drivers of a by-gone era used to get when they saw the black No. 3 Chevy running up on their rear bumper?

I'll bet they do.

• The new surface at Bristol absolutely makes for great racing. If you were only watching the race on television, you missed most of it – unfortunately. There was always passing going on somewhere. No single file junk like we all had to suffer through last weekend in Atlanta.

The tires were better than expected, too.

"I thought the race was a lot better than the first race here (after the repaving)," said Harvick. "I think the tire was good this week. You could see a lot of rubber build up on the top. You could see the tire working.

• Note to Dario Franchitti: Up next is Martinsville. Things happen a bit slower there. Good luck on your qualifying run and hope it doesn't rain that weekend.

• What's up with Denny Hamlin's luck at this place? Once again he had a car that could win the race and he ends up having fuel pickup problems – similar to what he experienced here last year. This time, it absolutely cost him the win.

• I noticed it was the second weekend in a row that a Joe Gibbs car had a power steering problem.

"I guess its time to find someone else to make those boxes," Kyle Busch said over his team radio while sitting in his car in the garage after his power steering pump failed.

• Rowdy finished 17th, a respectable finish considering he drove a good deal of the race sans power steering.

• Did anyone else notice the great save by Burton after Jimmie Johnson tapped him in Turn 2 on lap 375? Simply amazing!

• Sunday's race was a three-hour lesson in car control for Sam Hornish Jr., who spent nearly the entire three hours trying not to wreck his Penske Dodge. His 29th-place finish was good enough to slide him into 35th in owner points, though, and with it comes a free pass into the field at Martinsville, where he should do well.

• Sometimes I get the feeling that Kyle Petty is the designated moving chicane in every race. I can't tell you how many times a spotter had to point out, "There's a slow one on the bottom. It's the 45 car."

• And what's this talk about Petty switching owner points with the 43 car? I could understand why Penske did it with Hornish. He's a new guy who's still learning the game. But to do the same for a veteran driver? I don't think so. Got sponsor commitments? OK then. Deliver or put someone else in the car.

• The tributes this weekend for Dale Jarrett were quite moving and very, very cool. Besides having his dad Ned wave the green flag to start the race, fans in the west stands used colored panels to produce a grandstand-sized UPS logo and the words, "Thanks, Dale!" prior to the start of the race.

• I would have hated it if Jarrett just disappeared from the sport. I predict his will turn into one of the most respected voices heard on a number of topics regarding this sport for years to come.

• Over the past five races, Jamie McMurray has finished 26th, 22nd, 25th, 40th and 43rd. Remember when he was such the hot commodity just a couple of years ago and his move to Roush was such a big deal? Hard to imagine anyone thinking that now.

• Every time I watch Aric Almirola race I'm convinced he's a star in the making. Do you think Mark Martin would have finished eighth had he been driving the No. 8 DEI car Sunday instead of Almirola? I don't think so.

Almirola drove with the kind of patience and confidence that will win him races at the Cup level.

Bobby Labonte deserves better results.

• You've got to appreciate that the combination of Bristol's new surface and the new car resulted in an entertaining 500-lap Cup race in just over three hours. Three hours and 15 seconds to be exact. I could get used to Cup races like that!

• The Lowe's team looked for a while like this might be the weekend when everything turned around. It did, sort of. Johnson, who finished 18th, leaves Bristol 13th in points, just one spot ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon, who was tight all day and never got a good feel for his car.

• Notable names out of the top 35: McMurray, Dave Blaney, Franchitti, Regan Smith and Kyle Petty.

Notables in: All three Michael Waltrip cars, Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley and Travis Kvapil.

• Speaking of Waltrip's team, look for good things from Michael McDowell as he takes over the 00 car from David Reutimann. McDowell was the runner up to the ARCA title last season with four wins and nine poles. Far too many people have overlooked this 23-year-old who has made a very smooth and successful transition from racing Champ Cars and sports cars to stock cars. He'll end up being the best performing driver at MWR.

• Guenther Steiner is no longer the director of competition for Team Red Bull. Officially, Steiner is on "vacation." However, sources close to the team say he's gone and there's been no replacement named. It's all part of the shakeup underway at the team now that Jay Frye has been put in charge. I also hear that Slugger Labbe could be on his way over to Red Bull to be reunited with Frye.

Postscript:

A well-deserved weekend off is on tap for NASCAR.

Then, it's another short track. This time it's Martinsville, where speeds are quite a bit slower, but tempers are equally as short.

Do you think Jimmie Johnson has that one circled on his calendar?

Without a race on television, how about spending the time with your loved ones and getting started on that honey-do list.