Under the lights at Bristol

Published 11:32 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

Reports surfaced late Friday afternoon that Brad Keselowski has agreed to drive the No. 12 Dodge next season for Penske Racing. If this is true, it’s a huge upset for Hendrick Motorsports, who had a period of exclusive negotiating rights with Keselowski, whom I believe is a superstar in waiting.

Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup race earlier in the year at Talladega while driving a Hendrick-supplied Chevy for James Finch’s Phoenix Motorsports. While Hendrick is already at the maximum four-team limit, the popular thought was that Hendrick would “create” a situation with a satellite team in order to keep Keselowski “in the family.”

Under this arrangement, Keselowski will not only exit the Hendrick family, but will also leave Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports Nationwide team. Junior fields Chevys and Penske fields, at least for now, Dodges. That combination wouldn’t work.

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While this move will produce little, if any, ripple effect in the Sprint Cup series, many racers will covet the opening at JR Motorsports. The opportunity to compete in first-rate equipment and the exposure to Hendrick will be attractive to both existing Nationwide drivers and up-and-comers.

Keselowski would replace the struggling David Stremme at Penske, and he would become teammates with Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr. Busch is solidly in the chase in sixth position, and Hornish, a former Indy 500 winner, has shown big-time improvement over last year’s rookie campaign. Stremme currently sits in 31st position.

Speaking of the points, standings, Brian Vickers win at Michigan last week moved him up one spot to 13th position, only 12 points out of the chase and 12th position.

With three races remaining in the “regular season,” those outside the top 12 had better race like there’s no tomorrow. Only 100 points separate Greg Biffle in 10th and Kyle Busch in 15th. I stick to my prediction of last week that, when all is said and done, Biffle falls out of the chase and Busch races his way into the chase.

Thunder Valley is next on the schedule Saturday night. This night race at Bristol is one of the most anticipated and popular races of the year among the fans. And because the fans think it’s a big deal, the drivers think it’s a big deal.

New this year, in what is a pretty neat twist, each driver got to pick their own “entrance music” during driver introductions.

How about Aussie Marcos Ambrose picking “Land Down Under” by Men at Work? Pretty fitting. Jeff Gordon went old school with some Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” while Clint Bowyer picked on of my favorites, “C.C. Rider” by Elvis Presley.

This is another neat twist and proves why track owner Bruton Smith is the best promoter in the business.

You always expect the unexpected at Bristol, much like Talladega and Daytona, and the usual suspects will run strong there. Kyle Busch’s back is against the wall and my pick to win Saturday night.