Commentary

Drivers on an emotional roller coaster

Updated: March 18, 2012, 1:55 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kyle Busch walked straight to the garage after Friday's qualifying laps, obviously not very happy with his effort. Brother Kurt wasn't eager to stand around and talk long about his effort, either.

Then there was Greg Biffle.

"I want to jump up and down right now like a little kid," the points leader said after taking the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

A driver's mood, like that of any athlete, can be in direct correlation to performance. Seldom when things aren't going well do you see somebody wanting to jump up and down.

AJ Allmendinger, for example, wasn't nearly as happy as Biffle after qualifying second, because he's in a tie for 29th in points, a full race (43 points) behind the top 12 that make the Chase.

Kyle Busch should be in a good mood coming to a track where he's won four of the last six Cup races, five overall and swept the weekend a year ago. He's not, because he's 12th in points, hasn't been a real contender for a win and qualified 13th here.

Kurt Busch should be equally thrilled coming to Bristol, where he has won five times. He's not because he is tied with Allmendinger in points with an average finish of 29.7 and qualified 27th here.

That there are lingering reports he had a meltdown after crashing last week at Las Vegas because he threw a water bottle and said a few bad words -- neither of which constitutes a meltdown unless you're under the microscope Busch is -- doesn't help.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in a good mood despite a 132-race losing streak because he is a career-best fourth in points after three races and coming off a race in which he led 70 laps.

You get the picture.

"Your performance on the track makes a huge difference in how you feel about your life, that's for damn sure as a race-car driver," Brad Keselowski said.

Keselowski is in a good mood despite being 21st in points because he qualified fifth, posted the fastest lap in Saturday's first practice and he's at a track where he won in August. He also likes that NASCAR added more timing lines on pit road after there were complaints he took advantage of his pit selection to win.

"The sincerest form of flattery in this sport is having a rule created for you," Keselowski said with a smile.

But nobody is in a better place than Biffle these days. He has the points lead for only the second time in his career -- the other was 2005 after Infineon Raceway -- has qualified no worse than ninth in four races and has three third-place finishes.

"Feels pretty damn good," he said.

[+] EnlargeKeselowski-Hamlin
Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images/NASCARBrad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin seem pretty pleased at Bristol.

It definitely feels better than a year ago when Biffle had one of his worst seasons in Cup, finishing 16th in points with no wins and only three top-5s. That Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards lost the title in a tie-breaker to Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth was a contender until a run-in at Martinsville made Biffle's mood even worse.

"Oh, yeah, it just ate away at me," Biffle said. "The only thing that kept me alive was we were just as fast as they were. We just weren't performing the whole race."

New crew chief Matt Puccia -- as well as a new pit crew -- has helped turn that around to the point Biffle can't get through an interview without mentioning Puccia's name three or four times.

"This is the last week I am going to mention his name," Biffle said with a laugh. "I am going to take all the credit after this week. Anything that happens from here on is going to be all about me."

See, a good mood.

Biffle is in such a good mood that he doesn't care if he leaves Bristol without the points lead, as he did after the last time he led the standings.

"I don't care because we've got good cars," he said. "We're going to be there in the long run."

Chances are there will be some really bad moods late Sunday afternoon. The tight confines and short-track banging at Bristol typically brings that out even in those that began the day feeling good.

There also will be some a lot happier than they were on Friday and Saturday. The Busch brothers could fall into that category based on their history at the half-mile track.

Kyle has led 1,301 laps here over the last seven races with an average finish of 4.1. Kurt hasn't been as dominant as he was in winning four out of five races here from 2002 to 2004, but he's had four top-10s in his last five outings and led 278 laps in the 2010 spring race.

When you think of Bristol, the Busch brothers automatically come to mind.

"We're just that unpolished let the rough edges drag kind of guys," Kurt said. "Maybe that is our driving style and maybe that is why it's Bristol, baby."

Kurt is so confident when he comes to this half-mile bullring that he targeted this race before the season as one he has a chance to win with underfunded Phoenix Racing. But his mood when he said that was much better than what it was on Friday.

"We're fine, It's a long season," Busch said, ending the interview abruptly.

Guess they all can't be jumping up and down like Biffle.

"I'm trying to hold my composure," Biffle said. "It's like when you get up to bat and the ball comes down the pike and you nail it perfect. It makes you feel good."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter