Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski declared on Saturday night during a contrived pre-race introduction at Bristol Motor Speedway, is "an a - -."
Well, that he may be. Evidence is mounting. And Keselowski certainly had the right to such an opinion after Busch spun him for the lead in the final moments of a Nationwide Series race at the .533-mile track on Friday before motoring off to victory. But Busch is also an incredible race car driver, a winner of 19 Sprint Cup races, 40 in the Nationwide Series (and a championship in 2009) and 19 in Trucks in just seven full-time seasons at NASCAR's elite levels.
On Saturday night, Busch became a historic a - -, dominating the fabled Bristol night race to become the first driver to win races in all three of NASCAR's top three series in the same week.
"We are in the presence of greatness," spotter Eddie De Hondt said as Busch crossed the finish line with a .677-second lead over David Reutimann.
That may be too. Evidence is mounting.
1. Kyle Busch's brilliance, bravado makes NASCAR a lot more interesting. Busch irritates, agitates, infuriates. He's unapologetic in victory and ungracious in defeat and doesn't really care what anyone thinks about either characteristic. His quality of talent is sometimes masked by the quantity of it, when petulance or impatience doesn't intercede. He was Busch in its most pure form this weekend, as he came from the back of the field to win the Truck Series race for his personal team, then bullied past Keselowski -- legal, said NASCAR -- on Friday for Joe Gibbs Racing. His effort on Saturday was the most eventless of the weekend except for a few anxious moments passing Keselowski's back-marking No. 12 Dodge or a few hard-driving challenges with Reutimann and Jamie McMurray, who finished third. Busch apparently created his own dramatics as he wound down the final four laps, calling over the radio to crew chief Dave Rogers his fear he had either cut a tire or had a track bar mount coming loose.
But even in a race uneventful by the mythic standards of the Bristol bullring, Busch was able to inspire frenzy -- read: distaste -- out of reach for his counterparts. He rubbed his eyes in mock sympathy celebrating the Nationwide win and bowed with the checkered flag to a throng of finger-wagging detractors on Saturday night. Busch's face spoke of relief as he described his feelings in Victory Lane, but he was still able to conjure the swagger that makes him one of the sport's most interesting and important personalities at a time NASCAR is so trying to promote them.
"I feel like to me I've been in this position since the upstart of my career, since I was 16, and it hasn't changed, and I don't foresee it changing any time soon," he said of his ability to stoke emotions in fans. "We've asked this question about 50 million times and I'll probably get it 25 million more times. You know, you just deal with it, man. You just go out there and do what you can."
Oh, and his thoughts on Keselowski's shout out?
Q. What was your thought about Keselowski's little pre race declaration?
KYLE BUSCH: Who?
Q. Brad Keselowski.
KB: Yeah, I don't know who you're talking about.
Q. OK. He drives the No. 12 car.
KB: I saw it. But I passed it.
2. Jimmie Johnson's done! Wait. He's not. The king-is-dead theme gained even more momentum on Saturday night when Johnson, running second on Lap 262, was hooked from behind by Juan Pablo Montoya, wrecked, sent behind the wall and to a 35th-place finish that dropped him four spots to ninth in points. Certainly, Johnson's recent troubles -- five finishes of 22nd or worse in his last seven -- are not indicative of his expected late-summer surge and burst into the Chase. But his campaign is hardly over. With two races left until the 10-race playoff begins, he is tied with Denny Hamlin for the series lead with five victories and therefore set to begin the playoffs from the front. And it's not as if he was flotsam on Saturday night. Johnson, who won the Bristol spring race, led 169 of the first 171 laps from the pole and had crew chief Chad Knaus in a plucky mood until Montoya inexplicably made contact from behind, ruining his race. Montoya didn't sound incredibly remorseful on his team radio, but Johnson said he didn't consider the move intentional. That said, he didn't understand it, either.
"I thought I left him enough room," he said. "All of a sudden I got hooked with force."
3. Clint Bowyer is seizing the final Chase spot. Is he seizing it or is Mark Martin surrendering it? Semantics. Bowyer overcame an early speeding penalty to finish fourth and claim his third top-5 in the last six races, opening the gap between his spot in 12th place and new 13th-place driver McMurray to 100 points. Martin, who has finished 19th, 28th and 23rd the last three races, fell to 14th in points, one behind McMurray. Martin's malaise is all part of a Hendrick Motorsports stumble where the team has gone five races without a top-5 finish.
"Our cars are running well and a 100 points is a lot," said the Richard Childress Racing driver. "It's a lot more than 35 and he did a good job tonight and he drove a good race, his car was good and I expect they will be, but Mark Martin and Ryan Newman are not out of this thing yet either. We just have to keep digging and doing what we are doing and they are not going to catch us."
4. Brian Vickers very much wants to race again. Vickers, 26, announced on Saturday that he underwent heart surgery to repair a hole between his right and left atrium on July 12 and had a stent inserted into a vein in his left leg to help treat a circulatory condition called May-Thurner Syndrome that is suspected as the cause of blood clots discovered in his lungs, legs and fingers and hands since he checked into a Washington, D.C.-area hospital complaining of chest pain in early May.
Vickers announced following his release from the hospital this spring that he would not race again this year, and his eventual return seemed dubious considering the regimen of blood thinners he was required to ingest to offset the possibility of stroke. But he said on Saturday that he had received medical clearance from his physicians to resume his career in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota next season, good news, if eventually true, for him, but possibly not for teammate Scott Speed, unless Red Bull Racing adds a third Sprint Cup program. The team signed Kasey Kahne to a one-year stop deal before for 2011 before the current Richard Petty Motorsports driver assumes the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Red Bull general manager Jay Frye has not yet indicated which car Kahne would drive, but the team reportedly has the right to opt out of the final year of Speed's contract if he fails to finish 16th or higher in points this season. Speed, in his second full Sprint Cup season, entered Saturday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 27th place.
Vickers, who is scheduled to take blood-thinners until January, said there was never an inner debate over undergoing heart surgery or risking a stroke.
5. Kevin Harvick's championship equation is not yet complete. The two-time Nationwide Series champion has held the Sprint Cup points lead for 18 of 23 weeks this season, masterfully navigating the disparate slate of tracks that comprise the schedule, maximizing good days and minimizing bad ones. He, crew chief Gil Martin and his Richard Childress Racing team, with few exceptions, have been cohesive, and ahead of the field. But Harvick stewed through his second disaster race in six weeks on Saturday, irate over tire pressure changes made during a first pit stop that he claimed made his No. 29 Chevrolet even harder to drive.
"No way we're going to be able to win this championship if we don't know how to adjust the air pressure from loose to tight," he barked over team radio.
Harvick recovered from as far behind as 35th to finish 14th, and his points lead -- which will be nullified in three weeks when the standings are seeded by bonus points -- remained at a weighty 279 points. Harvick had top-10s in visits to each of the next four tracks -- Atlanta, Richmond, Loudon, Dover -- earlier this season, so the fix could be imminent. Or he might be about to get very angry.