NOTEBOOK | From Bristol, Tenn.
Busch takes aim: A lot of drivers just hope to get through a Nextel Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway with both ends of their car intact. Not Kurt Busch. He goes to Bristol to win. The 26-year-old goes into Saturday night's Sharpie 500 on the very fast half-mile oval looking for his fourth Bristol win a row and fifth in his last six starts at the Tennessee track. His four wins there are nearly half of his career total of nine. "It's a daunting task to say the least," Busch said about winning at Bristol. "Each time I go there, I don't expect to win and I don't expect to run bad. It's just a matter of controlling the most that you can within your car. Yeah, it's difficult to forecast when somebody spins and wrecks in front of you which way to go because you have to make those split decisions." Busch said the key is to absorb what he sees in front of him on the track, "whether it's a car you've got to pass or whether it's a different stage in the race. If it's early in the race, you're more conservative," he explained. "If it's later in the race, and somebody is faster than you, it is difficult to keep a car behind you because they can move you out of the way." Busch also has the comfort of knowing he heads into Bristol sixth in the points standings with only three races remaining before NASCAR's new 10-race championship showdown begins. Only the top 10 drivers in the points after the Richmond race on Sept. 11 will be eligible to race for the title. Busch is 345 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, but he is only 123 ahead of 11th-place Jeremy Mayfield in the very tight battle for the bottom rungs of the top 10. "Anything can happen at Bristol," Busch said. "If I'm in a position to win at the end, we'll go for it, but I [always] go there just to survive."
Milestone man: The race at Bristol is the 200th of Tony Stewart's Cup career. "It's pretty cool, but when you think of guys like Ricky Rudd (826) and Terry Labonte (547) and Kyle Petty (701), 200 starts seems pretty small to the accomplishments those guys have had. But it's still pretty neat to know that we've run 200 Cup races." Since beginning his career in 1999, Stewart has recorded 19 wins, 76 top fives, 118 top 10s and a Cup championship in 2002, while earning more than $30 million in prize money. Stewart got one of those wins in the summer race at Bristol in 2001, but has not had much success at the track recently. Despite leading 583 of 5,500 laps there, he heads into Saturday night's race riding a string of five straight Bristol finishes of 15th or worse. "It's one of my favorites, but Bristol is a track that's feast or famine," Stewart said. "If you have a really good day, it's a lot of fun. But if you have one little problem, it normally makes for a very long day. Lately, we've had a couple of long days there." Alleviating some of the pressure, Stewart was a solid fourth in the points chase going into the race. Was he worried that the push to make the 10-race championship showdown would make Bristol even wilder than usual? "I don't think it'll be any different," Stewart said. "I still think when it comes to racing, guys are simply just racing. I think at the end of the day they look at the point standings, but for the most part the whole time you're out there you're worried about winning the race or doing as well as you can. I really don't think people's mindsets will change."