Parks Race Reactions: Sharpie 500 at Bristol
There is a reason that Bristol Motor Speedway has sold out its last 55 events. It's because every fan knows that when you come here, it's all about excitement.
Saturday night proved to be another one of those nights as the Sharpie 500 turned out to be another classic Saturday night short-track shootout.
In this edition of "Parks Race Reactions," I'm looking at the winners, losers and surprises that came from last night's race.
First off, what a week for Kyle Busch. On Wednesday he stopped Ron Hornaday's winning streak in the Camping World Truck Series, putting the No. 51 Toyota in victory lane for the third time this year.
In Friday's Nationwide race, Busch got the lead early in the race coming out of turn four. Then, just as quickly, he lost it when a lapped car accidentally got in his way, clipping the rear corner of his NOS Energy Toyota Camry. Busch hit the wall hard, forcing him behind the wall for repairs.
Finally, Saturday night, Busch waited and waited for his opportunity. Working his way through the field, he finally made his way to the front on lap 432 and did not give up the lead. Despite a late charge from Mark Martin, the No. 18 M&M's car remained out front, and it was Busch taking a bow in front of the grandstands.
What caught me off guard was how humble Busch was in victory lane. He was not his usual no-nonsense, win-at-all-cost driver the fans have come to know, or hate. He was praising Martin for how he raced him, even going as far as saying the wrong guy was in victory lane.
"Mark Martin—what a class act. He deserved to win this race. I'm sorry he came home in second," Busch said.
That's not the usual Kyle Busch we have seen the past few weeks. It was different. Whether he shows the same compassion as the Chase nears, is up for debate.
Busch still finds himself outside the Chase, but he is much closer to getting in than he was last week. Busch moves up two positions to 13th, only 34 points out of 12th. Good runs at both Atlanta and Richmond will put him in the Chase. His four wins tie Martin for most this year, and should he get in, he would start the Chase tied for first.
One of the other big winners on this night was Martin. Starting his 1,000th race from the pole and leading nearly half the laps, it was an almost perfect night for the No. 5 team. They just couldn't seal the deal once Kyle got out front.
Whether Martin could have or would have bumped Busch to get the lead was not up for debate. Martin was going to race clean, and he was quick to point that out.
"He gave me plenty of room, and I got sideways," Martin said shortly after getting out of the car.
In the post-race news conference, he further emphasized that he had no intention of using the "bump and run."
"If you watched that race real close, I didn't need to use the bumper," Martin said. "Kyle gave me all the room in the world to make that pass, and I didn't make it."
That's the one thing about Martin that everyone respects. He will race everyone clean unless a driver, as he put it, "abused" him enough for him to race dirty.
The second-place finish moved Martin from 12th to 10th in the points, giving him a little cushion from the drivers fighting to get in, but still not much breathing room.
The surprise of the night had to be Marcos Ambrose. You talk about making a statement, he surely did on Saturday. Ambrose has been good at some tracks, but to come away with a third-place run at Bristol in his first year in Sprint Cup. Very impressive.
Ambrose himself is surprised that he runs well at Bristol.
"I don't know why I've run so well here...I just love Bristol," Ambrose said.
Whatever the case, Ambrose really impressed his sponsors and many fans by running that well at such a tough track.
The real losers of the weekend were Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Harvick was gaining a lot of positions only to be collected in a big wreck late in the race. It was just another chapter in a very subpar season for the No. 29 team.
Bowyer is trying to get into the chase, coming into the event 14th in points, and he took a hard hit to the standings by getting involved in the Harvick incident and then his late run-in with Michael Waltrip.
Bowyer was in no mood to talk after the race. When asked how frustrating his night was, he simply said, "really frustrating." Bowyer then made a quick exit down the tunnel to his motor home.
RCR this year has just not been the team that they were last season, when all three drivers made the Chase. Bowyer still can make the Chase. He won at Richmond two years ago and runs well at the track. I expect to see Bowyer make a late run to get into the Chase.
Bristol showed some aggression and certainly brought out the most passionate NASCAR fans in the country. The Sprint Cup Series gets a week off before they make the trip to Atlanta. After all the beating, banging and high octane action, they need it.
Atlanta is my favorite stop on the circuit next to Charlotte. High speed, multiple groves, and a lot of fun.
Couple that with the fact that for the first time the race will be run at night, it will be all the more intense. We could have another night in the appropriately named "HOT-lanta."
We all will find out Sept. 6, when the green flag flies on the Pep Boys Auto 500.
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