Trading places: Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski

Kyle Busch (Getty Images)
Kyle Busch (Getty Images)

Remember when Brad Keselowski called Kyle Busch an "ass" during driver introductions at Bristol?

That was in 2010, which, in Keselowski years, is a lifetime ago. It was his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, when he'd won just one race – the fluke at Talladega – and was known more for his mouth and rough driving style than anything resembling a budding champion.

At the time, Busch was everyone's pick to be NASCAR's next big thing. It wasn't a matter of if but when he'd win his first of many Cup championships. Keselowski, meanwhile, had earned himself a spot on quite a few driver's s-lists. He was on Busch's, of course, Carl Edwards' and Denny Hamlin's, just to name a few.

But in the three years since, Keselowski's career has been on a rocket ride to the top while Busch's has flattened out. It's as if they've traded places: Keselowski with his hauler parked in the champion's spot every weekend, Busch's parked somewhere down the line, usually about 12th to 15th.

Nowhere has this leapfrog been more apparent than at Bristol, a track Busch used to own. From 2007 to 2011, Busch won five of nine races at the half-mile bullring. In the three races there since, Keselowski has won two, Busch zero.

And so Sunday, when the two line up three rows apart to start the Food City 500 – Busch starting on the pole, Keselowski three rows behind in him in seventh – the potential storyline of two careers heading in opposite directions will be right there, in your face.

Oh sure, one race isn't enough of a sample size to determine that Busch's star has faded for good, and even the slightest miscue can ruin anyone's entire day on a half-mile short track. But the symbolism of Keselowski beating Busch on his best track will deliver a substantive dose of reality: that more talent resides in the driver's seat of the No. 2 than in the No. 18.

Who would have thunk that three years ago when Keselowski picked up that microphone and let Busch have it? If you recall, Keselowski finished 19th that night; Busch won.

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