BRISTOL -- The NCAA tournament has had its share of Cinderella stories, but on a dreary day in Thunder Valley, their were no fairy tales to be found.
Here are five things we learned at Bristol:
There are few weaknesses for the reigning four-time champ, but Bristol has been a sore spot on his resume for years. Winless in 16 career starts entering Sunday, Johnson had more runs of 30th or worse (four) than top 5 finishes. More often than not, the track provided embarrassing moments that would be a blip on the radar screen of a championship season.
"It's been a real downer for me to walk through the gates, look around, and think,'Man, I'm going to suck today, wreck in lap five,'" Johnson said. "I really had that mindset coming here."
So the team worked hard on changing it. Last year, he led 195 laps in two races while coming home eighth and third, putting him on the verge of a breakthrough. So it's no surprise to hear conquering Bristol was high on his list of priorities for 2010. Johnson led 84 laps, but still needed a boost late after chasing
"For him to say that he wanted to focus on that and get better at this racetrack, for us to be able to go out there and do what we did speaks volumes about the dedication and desire he's got inside," crew chief
It also beats his opponents into submission. After winning three of five races this season, Johnson has now won seven of the last 14, a NASCAR-best since
"I get caught up in mind game(s) and find a lot of satisfaction in it," he said. "I told Chad before the year was over, I don't have a number of wins (in mind), but I wanted to win a lot to frustrate the competitors. I think over the last few years, we've been able to get in some guys' heads and it's been helpful. I don't want to lose that advantage if we can prevent it."
That's bad news for Johnson detractors, with fans and rivals alike hoping for a breakthrough sometime soon.
"I hope it frustrates (the other drivers)," Knaus said. "That's only momentum for us."
Any hope of a continued Carl-Brad feud ended Saturday, when the two met with NASCAR officials. By all accounts it went well, with both drivers getting a good understanding of each other and pledging to simply move on. Both raced each other hard but clean in both the Nationwide and Cup races, with Keselowski emerging from both without a scratch.
That reality likely disappointed fans at a track where bumping and banging was the norm. Bristol's second groove has made it more like a mini-intermediate where lapped cars get out of the way and drivers give each other room.
Compare that with Joe Gibbs Racing, which struggled with a faulty Goodyear tire more than anyone else. Pole sitter
Busch's crew chief
"It could be setup, could be tire, could be track," he said. "We'll look at everything."
That confusion is not where a championship-contending program should be. Kyle Busch made a startling recovery to ninth, but it's still a far cry from the 378 laps he led on the way to that dominating Bristol win last spring with Addington as his crew chief. Now 10th in points, teammates Logano and Hamlin are 17th and 19th with just three top 10 finishes in 15 attempts. And Hamlin, the trendy preseason title favorite, has yet to finish inside the top 15.
Last season, short tracks were the source of RFR's undoing. Thirty starts produced just one top-five finish, and superstars
That changed in a hurry Sunday with the Blue Ovals asserting themselves in a big way. Biffle contended throughout, while Kenseth and Edwards worked hard to hang inside the top 10. All three took two tires under the race's final caution, a gamble that left them 1-2-3 for the restart and track position to finish the race fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively.
"So far this year, we've been able to find ways to get good finishes even when we haven't performed," said Kenseth, who took over the point lead from
Kenseth and Biffle remain the only two drivers to go 5-for-5 in top 10s this season. Add in Edwards' solid performance, and this team looks to be in perfect position to capitalize on the spoiler's debut next week.
Sports demand a balance of mental and physical strength -- something
For McMurray, it was blocking out an awful sickness in fighting his way to a solid top 10 finish. Fighting the flu all weekend, things got worse right after the drop of the green. By lap 60, he felt like he was going to throw up, and some wondered if he'd even finish the race.
McMurray said he did not take any medicine for his nausea.
"I didn't think they'd be able to give me anything to fix it, and I wasn't going to mess a pit stop up for a Tums," McMurray said.
But all joking aside, McMurray found the best way to feel better was to run harder. By Lap 300, he was running fifth and got as high as third before slipping to eighth at the finish. It's the best run by far since his Daytona 500 victory, stopping the bleeding of a month-long slump in which he even wrecked his own teammate.
As for Earnhardt, he seemed ready to run over crew chief
"Don't [expletive] lay down on me, bud," he said. "Keep digging."
"I don't EVER [expletive] lay down. Don't say that ever again on the radio. Don't need the whole world hearing that."
But what the whole world saw afterwards was Junior driving like a man possessed, fighting from outside the top 20 to finish seventh. That's good enough to leave him eighth in points, ahead of teammates
What a tough way to wind up a two week-stint filled with momentum. The last thing NASCAR needed during an NCAA tournament packed with Cinderella stories was to come to a "fan favorite" track and generate none of their own.