At 19 years young, Brad Coleman was just happy to be running up front last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. When Carl Edwards came up to him after the race to congratulate him on a race well run, he was nearly speechless.
"When a Cup driver comes over to shake your hand it really makes your day," Coleman said. "My crew later told me that Carl had radioed to his crew chief during the race to go over to my pit and tell my guys I was doing a great job. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel."
Almost as good as scoring his first career top-10 Busch Series finish. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Chevy finished ninth. It was the continuation of his steady improvement after just five races run this season.
Coleman followed up his 38th-place season debut with a 35th-place finish. In his last three races, though, Coleman has finished in the top 20. He took the green flag at Talladega from the pole position.
"I knew we were close to jelling as a team," he said. "Only five races together and we are starting to feel like a very strong unit.
"It is difficult to get in sync when you run a partial schedule, but I credit my crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, and all the No. 18 guys with making it work."
Surely, Coleman deserves some of the credit, too.
"Brad was given a special gift to drive race cars the day he was born," said Price Cobb, the LeMans champion and sports-car racer who trained Coleman in both stock and sports cars. "He has an uncanny natural ability to navigate traffic on a racetrack unlike anyone I have ever seen. When you combine his special gift with the cross-training program he committed to at a very young age, you know why he is rising to the top of the sport."
Krisiloff rising, too
Coleman isn't the only rookie finding early success. Kyle Krisiloff finished fifth at Talladega, his first finish of better than 16th this season.
"We have less than 20 guys and they work harder than guys at big teams," Krisiloff said. "When you come home 20th and 30th every week, nobody wants to do that. Not that we're going to be in the top five every week from now on, but this is a little shot in the arm and it'll just keep us going."
Last week, the HANS device in Kyle Busch's car cracked during his spectacular wreck
"I've been in some pretty bad wrecks, but that was the first time I ever got upside down or anything," he said. "It wasn't fun. It wasn't too terribly bad when I was on the roof going down the straightaway, but when it headed toward the grass I planned for the worst.
"I flipped my visor open and put my hands in my helmet to grab on, then I tucked down and got in the fetal position and planned for the worst. I just wanted to support my head as best I could for when it started flipping."
Busch was not injured in the accident, but NASCAR is looking into why the device cracked.
Labonte back in Victory Lane
Bobby Labonte ended a two-year winless streak in NASCAR racing when he edged out Tony Stewart on Saturday by .052 seconds. Afterward, it was harder to tell who was more excited about the finish.
"He outsmarted me at the end," Stewart said. "There was nothing I could do. That was just an awesome finish. That is the most fun restrictor-plate race and finish I've ever had in my life."
Maybe the most excited person was Kevin Harvick, who owns both Labonte's and Stewart's cars and had a great view of the two battling it out for the win. Harvick finished sixth.
Rupen Fofaria has covered NASCAR for ESPN.com since 2002. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.