A pump operator for Sunoco takes a break during pole day Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
BRISTOL, Tenn. - For Matt Kenseth, seeing his crew chief in the infield at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday morning was fun. For Kasey Kahne, it was a sight for sore eyes.
Robby Reiser, crew chief for Kenseth's No. 17 Ford, and Kenny Francis, crew chief of Kahne's No. 9 Dodge, returned from four-week suspensions issued for rules infractions during qualifying for the Daytona 500.
Each was back at the track for his first race weekend of 2007, but the two came back to vastly different situations.
Kenseth, who is fifth in points, said he couldn't wait to get in a jab about Reiser's forced vacation.
"I went up and asked who the new guy was, and he said that was a dumb joke, he's already heard it 15 times," Kenseth said. "So that was about the whole conversation."
Reiser said the suspension allowed him to spend a lot of time at the shop working on the Car of Tomorrow, which makes its debut in Sunday's Food City 500.
"Anytime you get to stay back and work on stuff and you've got more time, you can be a little bit more prepared," Reiser said. "But with NASCAR changing the rules every three minutes and not knowing what to expect, I don't really know if it helped us that much."
Francis, on the other hand, rejoined a team trying to make the top 35 in points in order to avoid having to qualify on time next week at Martinsville.
Kahne finished seventh at Daytona, but a blown engine and a couple accidents have dropped him to 36th in points heading into the Food City 500, where he will start on the front row opposite pole-winner Jeff Gordon.
"We're sweating it out, trying to jump a couple of spots here at Bristol and get back in the top 35," Francis said. "We're just trying to get better and hopefully we can come out of Bristol with a decent finish."
HUGGING IT OUT: Thanks in part to modern communication, everything is cool between Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart following their incident last week in Atlanta. Stewart took exception when Johnson passed him in the closing laps, forcing the No. 20 car to scrape the wall and settle for second.
Despite the heat of the moment, Johnson couldn't help but be impressed as Stewart managed to save his car from crashing and deliver a message via sign language in the direction of the No. 48 car.
"There's no doubt that Tony is a talented driver," Johnson said. "He's very talented to shoot me the bird right inside the car and keep going straight."
Following the race, Johnson sent Stewart numerous text messages in an effort to mend fences with his fellow driver.
"Once we had a chance to talk about it, we didn't (have an issue) and I knew leaving the track that we were in good shape," Johnson said. "Word made it from his people to my people that it was fine."
Johnson and Stewart also made appearances on each other's radio shows in a further attempt to bury the hatchet.
CONFUSED CLINT: Clint Bowyer seemed a bit befuddled when asked about Todd Bodine's comments following last week's Craftsman Truck Series race in Atlanta.
After that race, Bodine said, "We didn't want (Bowyer) to win, and if I had to push somebody I'd rather push my friend than a guy that won't even talk to you when you walk by."
"I guess I've got to send him a card or something," Bowyer said Friday at BMS. "I don't even hardly know him. I think I talked to him one time, in the Busch banquet two years ago. He obviously don't know me very well because I'd talk to a tree."
LAST LAPS: Kevin Lepage, David Reutimann, Michael Waltrip, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter and Paul Menard all failed to make Sunday's field. … Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, last year's Food City 500 winner, were two of three drivers who made the field on owner points due to poor qualifying runs.