From the Marbles - NASCAR

Last week, a feelgood newcomer in victory lane. This week, the long-awaited return of one of the sport's biggest stars. If NASCAR's not careful, this might just be an exciting season after all.

At Phoenix, Jeff Gordon looked like the Jeff Gordon of 1997, coming back time and again to retake the lead from challenger after top-flight challenger: Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and finally Kyle Busch. Gordon's rundown of Busch in the final 20 laps was a masterpiece of driving, NASCAR's version of a nature documentary where the predator inexorably reels in the prey.

"I beat Kyle Busch!" Gordon exulted after the race, and on this weekend, he was the only one of the 116 other drivers this weekend who could claim to have done that. It marked the end of a 66-race drought, and it was decisive.

Good news for Gordon, then, who appears primed to make another run at a Cup. Good news also for Busch and his brother Kurt, who sit 1-2 in the standings. Not so good news for Jeff Burton, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers, all of whom are already more than 50 points behind Kyle Busch's lead. (Put another way: Kyle could skip Vegas entirely and those three couldn't catch him.) The points differential, and how fast drivers can make up for poor finishes, will be a key storyline in the weeks going forward.

For now, though, the story is old man Gordon, back in victory lane again. At least he didn't need directions, like Trevor Bayne did last week. But for heaven's sake, someone remind the man how to do a burnout. He stalled his car on the logos on the infield grass in the attempt; clearly he'd forgotten how. 

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