NASCAR: Live from Bristol

Updated: March 15, 2013, 5:30 PM ET
ESPN.com

It's Bristol, baby

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Welcome to Bristol Motor Speedway, the "World's Fastest Half-Mile Track,'' where every NASCAR driver hopes to add a win to his or her résumé.

Seeing somebody win will be nice in a week when nobody did.

On Thursday, Denny Hamlin surrendered his bid to appeal the $25,000 fine from NASCAR for criticizing the Gen-6 car at Phoenix. It was an appeal he likely could have won because his criticism really wasn't a criticism, just an opinion that should have been accepted as that.

Hamlin
Hamlin

But you can't say NASCAR won, even though Hamlin's decision not to appeal kept this public relations disaster from dragging on another two weeks or so. And you can't say Hamlin won because he's still out $25,000.

So we'll call it a draw, although from the PR end, NASCAR lost big time on this one.

On Wednesday, Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was reinstated from a two-week suspension for using a racial slur in a conversation with an MTV reporter at Daytona International Speedway.

You can't say anyone won here, either. NASCAR took a strong stand parking a driver for using a word that never should be used in any situation.

Clements lost a sponsor for one race and possibly others for future races. The only way he can turn this into a win is to become a strong spokesman against what happened, which he has indicated is his intent.

But for the moment, neither side won.

On Sunday, somebody will.

Unless the Gen-6 fails to produce a thrilling race, and then we'll have to re-evaluate all over again.

-- David Newton

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Kyle Busch wins pole

Kyle Busch was my favorite to win Sunday's race going into the weekend, and results from qualifying strengthened that pick.

Busch
Busch

Busch will start on the pole with a track-record lap of 129.534 mph, breaking the record of 128.709 mph set by Ryan Newman in 2003.

Although Busch has five wins at Bristol, he's never started from the top spot. His best previous start here was ninth in 2008.

"It's cool to get to start out front at Bristol,'' Busch said. "It helps you a little bit.''

Kasey Kahne will start on the front row beside Busch, with Denny Hamlin, Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, third. Danica Patrick was 41st-fastest.

-- David Newton

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Gordon video gone viral

So, Jeff Gordon, have you scared anybody in a car recently?

"When you are at Bristol, you are just scaring yourself every other corner,'' the four-time Cup champion said. "That is what makes this place so much fun.''

No, no, no.

He obviously missed my point, or was playing with me. I was referring to the Pepsi Max video that was released earlier in the week in which Gordon, disguised as a customer, gave a car salesman the ride of his life.

If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's already gone viral.

And while actors and a stunt driver were used, the person who played the scared salesperson showed genuine emotion as Gordon -- and a stunt double -- went on a thrill ride in a Camaro.

"Those reactions were real,'' Gordon said. "I mean, this guy was terrified. It was so much fun with me interacting with him. But then to get to see his reactions in that car when it is sliding sideways … even if you are a race car driver, being in the passenger seat is uncomfortable when somebody is doing things like that.

"That is what makes it so great. It is like everyone is debating, is it real [or] is it fake? I can tell you, those reactions, there was nothing fake about that.''

-- David Newton

Truth be told

As reporters, we come to the track looking for honest opinions from the drivers about the sport. As fans, you expect that in what we write and put on the airwaves.

Apparently, we're not getting that.

As Denny Hamlin defended his decision to drop his appeal of NASCAR's $25,000 fine for "disparaging remarks'' about the Gen-6 car, he was asked if he was disappointed that other drivers didn't take a strong stand with him.

His response spoke volumes.

"Everyone wants to stay on NASCAR's good side,'' Hamlin said. "That ultimately plays a lot of what you hear in interviews. Ninety percent of what you hear on a weekly basis is just guys trying to stay on NASCAR's good side. There's very few that really give the honest and true truth.''

-- David Newton

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Dale Earnhardt JrJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesNASCAR's reigning most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., signs autographs for fans on Friday.

Junior's grand plan

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to another fast start, third in the standings and only 10 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

How does he feel about it?

"I just really put a focus on the first 10 races because it's important to the Chase,'' NASCAR's most popular driver said. "I think if you get behind, you'll be in that battle at Richmond and then all that stuff is big distractions.

"So last year we were able to get a good 10-race start to the season and not have to worry about the points deal. We were comfortable in the summer and we could worry about our car and think about other things and not be stressed out about our points situation. No matter how good a race team you are, if you get behind, it's a battle all the way to Richmond. And we don't want to be in that situation.''

In case you are wondering, Earnhardt was fourth after three races a year ago, 18 points behind Greg Biffle.

-- David Newton

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Smoke's influence

Is Danica Patrick's boss, Tony Stewart, starting to rub off on the Sprint Cup driver?

When asked on Friday how aggressive she will be at Bristol, Patrick said, "I think that is a silly question.''

OK, Smoke may have called it a stupid question. Or worse.

But you get the point.

Patrick also ended the interview in Stewart-like fashion, completing an answer and making a quick -- but polite -- exit. OK, so Stewart may not have smiled as Patrick did, but you get the point.

-- David Newton

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Lesson learned

By the size of the media scrum, you would have thought Dale Earnhardt Jr. was behind the No. 51 hauler in the Nationwide Series garage at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Instead, it was Jeremy Clements addressing reporters about his suspension for using a racial slur that was lifted by NASCAR on Wednesday.

"I didn't mean to offend anybody at all,'' Clements said as he read a statement. "I'm sorry I let you all down. It doesn't represent who I am or how I was raised.''

Clements went from unknown to the spotlight after using the remark in a conversation with an MTV blogger at Daytona International Speedway. It resulted in an indefinite suspension and a trip to Orlando, Fla., for a $2,500 racial sensitivity class.

Now Clements is ready to resume his career, beginning with Saturday's Nationwide race at BMS.

"Twenty-five hundred dollars and then obviously missing racing, you don't get paid, and the driver's points it hurts a lot of things,'' he said. "We depend on that money at the end of the year for driver's points to keep our team going.

"It hurts us in all aspects. Just want to make the best out of it and move on. Try to get us a top-10 here at Bristol.''

-- David Newton

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No thanks, Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone's attempt to lure Danica Patrick to Formula One may have finally ended any differences the two may have had.

Remember what the chief of F1 said in 2005 after Patrick finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500?

"You know, I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances,'' he said.

Asked if the invite to F1 ended any lingering issues over the "domestic appliances" comment, Patrick laughed.

"I tell you what, I do love domestic appliances,'' said Patrick, who has no desire to drive in F1. "I love to cook and I love to be in the kitchen. That's flattering. Those utensils are very important in my life.''

-- David Newton

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