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5 Key Storylines Entering NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol

Michael GuadalupeFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2013

5 Key Storylines Entering NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol

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    NASCAR is getting set to head to Bristol Motor Speedway, and the Sunday race will hopefully be full of excitement.

    As the season starts to get underway, though, several key storylines in NASCAR have developed as the sport moves into Bristol.

    Some storylines will stay a main focus throughout the season, while others are carrying over from last week.

    Will Danica Patrick ever match her Daytona finish?

    And what will happen to Denny Hamlin after he refused to pay his fine from last week?

    As the season starts to move along, more storylines will start to develop week after week.  These five, though, are what fans and drivers will be talking about as NASCAR gets set to race at Bristol.

5. What Happened to Danica?

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    After a fantastic rookie finish at Daytona, Danica Patrick has quickly fallen off the pace.

    She had horrible finishes two weeks in a row now, placing 39th at Phoenix and 33rd at Las Vegas.  Danica had problems throughout both races, and even though she started from the back at Vegas, it's still no excuse for the horrible performance.

    Danica Patrick is on one of the premier teams in NASCAR, and if the rookie driver wants to make any more noise in the sport, she needs to start turning around her poor finishes.

    After Daytona, Patrick looked like she was ready to make a solid run in NASCAR.

    Now, with two horrible finishes in a row, she seems like she still has a lot to learn.

    Will Patrick turn her bad performances around, or will she continue to struggle? 

    She still has plenty of time, but one thing is for sure—Danica's progress will stay as one of the top storylines in NASCAR for awhile.

4. Jeremy Clements Gets Reinstated

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    Jeremy Clements found himself suspended after using a racial slur on February 23.

    Clements didn't see any action for two weeks and had to go to a session of racial insensitivity counseling.

    NASCAR has now reinstated Clements, and hopefully, the young driver has learned a major lesson.

    "We're pleased that Jeremy has taken these important steps and will return to racing starting this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway," Steve ODonnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, said Wednesday (h/t David Newton, ESPN.com).

    Clements himself said "I learned a lot from that class. I learned a lot about different words, stuff I didn't know before.

    "I learned a great deal about that and myself, how it affects everything that has to do with family, friends, church, sponsors and the team. I'm excited to be back in the race car. Nothing like that will ever happen again" (h/t ESPN.com ).

    How NASCAR handled the Clements situation can be debated.  Of course a suspension was the right course of action, but should he be allowed to come back so quickly?

    Regardless, Clements will stay a focal point as NASCAR heads into Bristol.

3. Has the Gen-6 Improved Racing?

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    The Gen-6 car is going to be a major storyline throughout the NASCAR season.

    Drivers were hyping the new car before the regular season even started, and NASCAR stood firmly behind it, believing that the Gen-6 would change racing for the better.

    And while drivers did see an increase in speeds, and more safety measures added to the car, has the Gen-6 really improved stock car racing?

    It helped cut the bump drafting at Daytona, but drivers were stuck racing single file for most of the day.

    Phoenix had a limited amount of lead changes, mainly due to clean air still playing a huge role in the lead car being able to stay out in front.

    Drivers were able to pass at Vegas, but was it really that much different from what fans saw last season with the Car of Tomorrow model?

    The Gen-6 still has a lot to offer, and NASCAR will continue working on the new model, but as of right now, one question still remains:

    Has the Gen-6 improved racing?

2. Denny Hamlin Stands His Ground, Then Backs Down

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    NASCAR is one sport where a driver can find themselves in trouble for speaking out against something the organization does.

    Hamlin apparently isn't as big of a fan of the Gen-6 cars as other drivers are, and when he spoke his mind about the new model, NASCAR decided to fine him.

    “I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars,” Hamlin said (h/t Bob Pockrass, AOL sporting news). “This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right."

    After being fined, Hamlin refused to pay it.

    "The truth is what the truth is." Hamlin said (h/t Jeff Gluck, USA Today). "I don't believe in this (fine), I'm never going to believe in this. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point."

    Now, only several days before Bristol, Hamlin has decided that he won't appeal the fine.

    "After a lot of thought I have decided not to appeal the fine NASCAR has issued," Hamlin said (h/t David Newton, ESPN.com)

    "Dragging myself, my team and NASCAR through the mud for the next 2 weeks would not be good for anyone."

    As NASCAR gets ready for Bristol, Hamlin will get ready to hopefully put this fine behind him.

1. Jeff Gordon Has a Sense of Humor

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    Jeff Gordon recently showed his comedic side when he pulled a prank on an unsuspecting car salesman.

    It’s more than just a funny prank, though.  This is great publicity for NASCAR, and for Jeff Gordon.  The driver clearly has a sense of humor, and he got the chance to show off his street driving abilities.

    Of course, though, with a stunt like this, it's always tough to decide if it was a real prank or just a fake publicity stunt for Pepsi Max.

    Regardless of if the prank was real or fake, the video has gone viral, with well over four million views on YouTube.

    With all the attention this video is getting, Gordon and his Pepsi Max prank is the biggest storyline heading into Bristol.

    Expect the four-time champ to answer a lot of questions about the video during the race weekend.

    Gordon might even use his street moves at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday.

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