How can you tell that Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway took place on St. Patrick's Day?
Because it ended with a huge fight and somebody throwing up.
More on those things later. Jokes about drinking holidays aside, the fourth race of the Sprint Cup season provided fans with plenty of entertainment. It proved that the old style of racing at Bristol is back to stay, with drivers wrecking as they went for the lead and tempers flaring.
It also helped demonstrate who this season's most competitive drivers are going to be. Race winner Kasey Kahne looks like he can build on last year's fourth-place points finish, while Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are re-establishing themselves as masters of consistency. And while their finishes on Sunday don't show it, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin should be in the mix all season as well.
So who came out of Bristol all smiles, and who got the horns in the famous bullring?
What a difference a year makes. Last year, an early wreck at Bristol had some people thinking that Kahne could have fallen out of the top 35 in owners' points, back when those still heavily influenced which drivers could qualify for a race.
This year, he just took his first win of the season at Bristol, propelling him from 14th to seventh in points and ensuring that such an early-season struggle will not happen again.
If you had "under 10 laps" in the office pool for the first caution at Bristol, give yourself a hand. If you had Tony Stewart as the first driver to wreck, too, consider opening a fortune-telling business.
A flat left rear tire sent the three-time champion spinning into the wall, and the resulting damage limited him to a 31st-place finish. He's now 24th in points, the lowest of the 12 drivers in last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Keselowski is establishing himself as the next Jimmie Johnson through the first four races of this season with his level of consistency. After finishing third, he has four top-five finishes—no other driver has more than two—and a nine-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the standings right now. So much for concerns over a manufacturer switch in the offseason.
For one driver to gain the points lead, another has to lose it. In this case, it was Johnson, who blew a tire in the race's final laps and slapped the wall. The incident dropped him two laps off the pace and all the way back to 22nd, causing him to lose two spots in the championship standings. Johnson is now third in points, 15 back of new leader Keselowski.
This one seems counterintuitive, but in reality, Logano had the greatest bad day ever at Bristol. After ex-teammate Denny Hamlin spun him as he battled for the lead with 150 laps to go, Logano made his way over to the No. 11 car post-race to vent his frustrations; it's proof that he thinks he's on a close enough level to challenge the authority of any driver in the series.
Meanwhile, the No. 22 team only finished 17th after the spin, but that didn't keep Logano from gaining three spots to rank 12th in points.
Coming out with his newborn daughter to Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" in driver introductions was the highlight of the week for Hamlin.
First, his protest over a $25,000 fine from NASCAR for criticizing the new Gen Six car ended without an appeal. Then came his on-track incident with Logano; it wasn't the first confrontation between the two this season, although Hamlin didn't endear himself by suggesting that Logano wasn't worth his time.
In the end, Hamlin led 117 laps but could only muster a 23rd-place finish after a late flat tire dropped him from a potential top-five finish.
Sure, it's disappointing that Busch couldn't add to his five career Cup wins at Bristol or complete the weekend sweep after barely edging Kyle Larson in the Nationwide race on Saturday. But with his second consecutive top-five finish, Busch's turnaround from a a tough opening two weeks of the season is complete; he's gone from 33rd in points after Phoenix to 10th after Bristol, only 16 points out of fourth place.
How quickly things can change. A week ago, Kenseth was on top of the world, becoming only the third driver in Sprint Cup history to win on his birthday; on Sunday, a freak crash with Jeff Gordon took both drivers out as they ran first and second. Kenseth's throttle reportedly stuck as Gordon had a tire issue, leaving him with nowhere to go. The accident left Kenseth in 35th, dropping him from seventh to 13th in points.
One of Bristol's finest traditions is driver introductions, in which drivers come out and address the crowd to a song of their choice. It's a great opportunity for drivers to show off their personalities and get the crowd pumped up. The award for best song choice goes to Cassill, who threw everybody for a loop by going with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."
Unfortunately, it wouldn't give Cassill and the camouflaged No. 33 car much luck in the race, as they finished 90 laps down in 33rd after a mid-race accident.
This isn't because Edwards finished 18th, the first driver to finish a lap down. It's not even because he fell from fifth in points to eighth with the mid-pack finish. No, Edwards lost something a little messier on Sunday: his lunch. Inside the race car.
Carl Edwards apparently was so sick he threw up in his car today.— tom jensen (@tomjensen100) March 17, 2013
So for all of you who celebrated a little too hard on St. Patrick's Day, there's at least one NASCAR driver who feels your pain.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.