Five things we learned from Bristol
As the weather warms up, so does the action in NASCAR Sprint Cup as the series headed to its first short track race of the season in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. This physical style of racing often leads to feuds on the racetrack that last for weeks into the season.
While racing at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas require a certain degree of finesse, the short tracks allow a little beating and banging and that is what some NASCAR fans consider their favorite type of racing.
There was a little of that Sunday, but it was mostly a battle between NASCAR's newest driver with attitude -- Brad Keselowski -- and the savvy veteran and former champion Matt Kenseth.
So let's get right to the "Five things we learned from Bristol"
He used that tactic last August to gain an advantage, so NASCAR took that edge away from any driver by adding more timing lines every six pit stalls to catch speeders on pit road.
The biggest advantages Keselowski had Sunday were his ability behind the wheel and a fast Dodge Charger. It was his fifth career Sprint Cup victory in 93 starts for the driver from Rochester, Michigan. It was team owner Roger Penske's 10th Bristol win with all f those coming in the No. 2 driven by Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch and now Keselowski.
"I got on Twitter and got kind of PO'd at some people that said I won it because of the timing line," Keselowski said in Victory Lane on Sunday. "I knew this Blue Deuce was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good to just prove it here today in the spring race."
With 18 laps to go, the two short-track warriors went after it with Keselowski getting the advantage over Kenseth. Keselowski's Dodge proved to be more powerful as he was able to pull away from Kenseth's Ford.
It was the fourth different race team to win a race in the first four races of the season with Roush Fenway winning the Daytona 500, Joe Gibbs Racing winning at Phoenix with Denny Hamlin and Stewart-Haas Racing winning with Tony Stewart at Las Vegas last Sunday.
Keselowski led a career-high 231 laps in Sunday's race.
"The last few races have been really good and I knew we had a shot at winning one," Keselowski. "Matt raced me hard and I raced him hard. We rubbed a little bit. Bristol racing is better than it has ever been. This is the best race I've ever been a part of. If this team keeps competing like we are we'll be tough to beat."
Kenseth did his best to stay on Keselowski's rear bumper and even beat him to the line a few times on late-race restarts. But, when it mattered the most on the final restart, Keselowski hit the gas and drove away from his pursuer.
"If I had been on the top I might have been able to pin him down there but on that last run we were just a little too loose," Kenseth said. "I could keep up but that was about it."
Last year Keselowski made "The Chase" as a wild card with three victories. By scoring a win so early in the season, that gives him an early edge. He is up to 13th in points after the first four races but Keselowski has the talent and is gaining the experience to be in the top 10 in the standings by the time September's cutoff rolls around.
Enter team owner Michael Waltrip, who offered Vickers the chance to drive in a very limited schedule in the same car that Mark Martin had driven in the first three Cup races of 2012. Martin is also driving a limited schedule this season so the ride was open for Vickers at Bristol and five more races in 2012.
Vickers impressed in his first start of the season, leading three times for 125 laps before finishing fifth.
"When it's your only one, you better make it count," Vickers said. "To have three MWR cars in the top five, I can't be more proud to be a part of that. (Crew chief) Rodney Childress bolted together my first go-cart 20 years ago and he put together this car. Everyone did a great job as well."
Drivers still have moments of contact, including one between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The two drivers were racing hard, made contact and the tailpipe from Earnhardt's Chevrolet cut the left-side rear tire on Gordon's Chevy, sending it into the wall.
"I think we bumped more than we should have is the way it looks like," Gordon said. "We definitely didn't hit in the right location, because I think the tailpipe or something just cut the left-rear (tire) immediately. We didn't hit that hard. We were a little bit too tight and he was pretty good on the restart there and we were racing hard. I know that it wasn't intentional, but it certainly ruined our day. I hate it for this race team. There were times we had the best car out there and I think we could have got back to that before this thing was over."
"We were going forward, just taking our time. Regan Smith was pretty slow and I was under him for a couple of laps," Kahne explained. "When my spotter cleared me in the center, I just took off, and he was there on exit. It is disappointing to have that good of a car and be out this early. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is doing such an awesome job. I've had awesome race cars, and I have nothing to show for it."
There will also be contact on the short tracks and big crashes are just as likely to happen at Bristol as on the restrictor-plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega.