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Lady Luck Goes Wild at Bristol

Today was the Food City 500 at Bristol, and Lady Luck was busy kicking people's lives around on that tricky track. No matter what a superdriver you are, no matter how good your car was running yesterday, the Lady says, "Today is another day." Especially at Bristol.

So the world-famous oval grandstand was packed with 160,000 fans who couldn't wait to see what dramas would unfold through hundreds of 17-second laps. Forty-three cars took the green flag. At Bristol, more than any other speedway, the drivers spend most of those laps trying to stay out of trouble and taking care of their cars. Everybody just aims to be well-positioned for the craziness of the last 10 laps -- and for taking advantage of the other guy's misfortune.

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were popular favorites after recent big wins, but the Lady frowned at favorites today. With a few laps to go, when leader Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvik banged into each other, Jeff Burton managed to stay out of their way and nip into the #2 spot. Stewart spun out briefly, and Harvik managed to hold on. In the final lap, leader Denny Hamlin thought he was finally going to win one, but suddenly started having problems with fuel feed. Burton stood on the gas and went screaming past him to take the checkered flag, followed by his two Childress Racing team-mates Harvik and Bowyer.

Burton's achievement last year was to place #8 in the over-all driver standings for the Nextel Cup national championship. This win zooms him to #4 in this year's standings so far. It was a first-time-ever 1-2-3 for the Childress Team.

Meanwhile a whole fleet of superstars finished between 10th and 20th place -- Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart. After the race, news cameras showed them all standing around with their crew chiefs, doing the somber post-mortem on what went wrong. As sportswriter David Caraviello said, the day proved once again how "deliciously cruel" Bristol can be.

The surprise of the day was good-looking 24-year-old rookie Aric Almirola, aka "the Cuban Missile," who finished 8th. Lady Luck gave him the big nod -- a career best and a lot of attention. Terri O'Connell tells me that Aric came up through short-track racing, so (she says) it's not surprising that he handled the Bristol half-mile so well. Almirola's top 10 finish puts a new glimmer on NASCAR's not-so-shiny diversity program. -- Patricia Nell Warren