Storylines: Kyle vs. Brian

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

If Kyle Busch had put last weekend's incident with Brian Vickers behind him, it's staring him straight in the face now.

How can it not be after Vickers, playing the self-appointed role of Zen master, said he "feels sorry" for Busch because "he lives in such an angry place"?

"It must be miserable to live like that," Vickers said. "I'm very blessed to have great parents who raised me to be a completely different person."

Words like this have to cut deep, even if Busch, who wasn't scheduled to speak to the media on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, won't admit it publically.

Will this translate into on-track retaliation?

Spats like this don't tend to trickle onto the track, but they will be racing together at Bristol, where tempers have a tendency to flare. If the two find themselves racing side-by-side, don't expect Busch to give Vickers even an inch.

Conveniently, Vickers and Busch will start 14th and 15h, respectively. This also means they should be riding around the track in the back of the same truck during driver introductions.

Here are five other storylines to keep an eye on in Saturday night's Sharpie 500:

1. Will Mark Martin be "devastated" in his 1,000th career Cup start?

Saturday night will be a landmark race for Martin. But the celebration of his 1,000th NASCAR start will be tempered if he doesn't finish near the front.

Martin is in a battle for the last spot in the Chase. Despite winning a series-high four races, he sits just 12 points in front of Brian Vickers in 13th.

Friday, Martin admitted that missing the playoff, in which he would be among the favorites to win it all, would be "devastating."

"I have accomplished everything that I hoped to accomplish this year, and much more," he said. "It just would be devastating for my team to not be included in that group."

Bristol hasn't been one of Martin's best tracks as of late – he has just one top five in the last 15 starts – but he will start on the pole, his fifth of the season.

2. Will Carl Edwards finally break through?

Edwards' winless season has been dissected from every possible angle, but here's the thing: If he's to break it, now would be the time.

For starters, he's the two-time defending winner of the August race at Bristol. And he almost always finishes at or near the front there, which says something considering how easy it is to find trouble on the half-mile track.

More than past performance, however, is the fact that Edwards hasn't been able to recapture the dominance he showed a year ago on the big, wide, intermediate tracks. Considering this, it stands to reason that his best shot at a win would come on a short, tight bullring.

"This week, I feel like this race is a bottleneck," Edwards said. "It's a lot like a Talladega or a Daytona where anything can happen. So, there are a lot of people right now with a lot of stress, and I've got just enough to keep me honest."

Edwards will have some work to do if he's to three-peat. He'll start 32nd.

3. Will there be any empty seats?

Nope. Bristol Motor Speedway is recession-proof.

Week after week NASCAR has raced in front of hoards of empty seats, including an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 four weeks ago at Indianapolis.

But Bristol track officials have already announced all 160,000 seats have been sold.

Granted, sellouts are the norm for this race, which for years has been NASCAR's toughest ticket. Still, it's noteworthy that even in these tough economic times 160,000 people continue to flock to the northeast corner of Tennessee, to a town where the closest city of note is Knoxville, 113 miles away.

4. Who's going to take a hit?

This will be a central theme for the next three races as the race to the Chase heats up.

Just 166 points separate Juan Pablo Montoya in seventh from Kyle Busch in 15th, meaning nine drivers are fighting for six spots.

For just about everyone in the hunt, Bristol is feast or famine. Leading the feast side is Busch, who has two wins and four top fives in nine starts at Bristol. On the famine side, Brian Vickers has yet to finish in the top 10 there in 10 career starts.

"None of [the three remaining races] are any more important than the others, but we obviously know that Bristol can be one of the race tracks where it can catch up some cars and chain-reaction accidents," explained Greg Biffle, who goes into Saturday's race 10th in the standings, but with only a 42-point lead over Vickers in 13th.

Biffle admitted that his team has altered its in-race strategy to keep pace with those around him in the standings.

"We've started thinking at Watkins Glen and Michigan about staying on the same pit sequence or cycle as those guys, and just beat them on performance, or out-race them, because if they can pull some strategy and sort of leapfrog you, that could hurt you," he explained. "But, if you're on the same strategy, you're either going to be bad together or be good together, so sometimes that's come into our thought process."

5. Will Bristol be Bristol?

Fenders and drivers using them is what made this the must-see race of the season. While fans did boo Dale Earnhardt back in 1999 after he infamously punted Terry Labonte out of the way en route to victory lane, they still cheered the action.

But the action at Bristol hasn't been as fierce since the track was repaved two years ago. The new surface has created more room to race, which means less bumping and banging.

"It’s allowed you to race instead of having to knock somebody," explained Mark Martin. "It’s brought honor and respect back into the game where it was difficult to live by those principles at the latter part of the last few years before it was redone."

For this reason, drivers love it. And for the same reason, fans don't.

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