BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Trouble has a way of finding Jimmy Spencer. His most notable moments of the racing season all seem to involve twisted metal and crumpled emotions.
He started the season, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing, by missing the Daytona 500.
Then, he got hit from behind by Kurt Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway in a dramatic battle for the victory, a pass that prompted this warning: ''Jimmy Spencer never forgets.''
Another run-in with Busch at Indian apolis Motor Speedway left Busch calling the former all-star football linebacker a ''decrepit has-been.''
And if that wasn't enough, his car owner flip-flopped him with another driver at Watkins Glen International. The other driver, Scott Pruett, finished fourth in Spencer's car, and Spencer failed to make the race after his transmission broke during qualifying.
In the past couple weeks, Ganassi has referred to his 45-year-old driver, a man known as ''Mr. Excitement'' for his bullish nature, as a child. Ganassi said he plans to keep Spencer behind the wheel of the No. 41 Target Dodge next year, but there's no question Spencer needs to make something happen soon.
"Everybody is going to bump you during the night. It's normal at Bristol." -Jimmy Spencer
That's why he's happy to be heading back to Bristol for this Saturday's Sharp ie 500.
The race track is the favorite among fans. Although it's only a half-mile short track, the 36-degree banking and 154,000 permanent seats make it one of the most spectacular events of the racing season.
It's the perfect stage for Spencer. When the main event turns into a dogfight remember Dale Earnhardt crashing Terry Labonte on the final lap to win in 1999? that's when Spencer is at his best.
Many cars will finish the race in the garage area, bent and battered beyond recognition. Chances are, there will be a couple scuffles between angry drivers and crews. The winning car probably won't escape trouble. Most cars in Victory Lane are covered with dents and tire marks.
''There's always something happening at Bristol, no matter what turn you're in,'' Spencer said. ''There aren't many tracks that can say that.
''When you put 43 cars out there, you can't focus on one or two cars that bump you. Everybody is going to bump you during the night. It's normal at Bristol. ... I always seem to have a good night there.''
Spencer, who has three top-five finishes at Bristol in his career, needs a good night. He is 27th in the standings, and he hasn't won since 1994. He's had two top-five finishes, including a season-best second-place effort at Bristol in March.
Spencer's problems come at a time when Ganassi is juggling a lot of ideas for the future.
Ganassi tried to sign Ricky Rudd for nearly two months to create a third team, but Rudd tripped everyone up Tuesday by signing a three-year contract with Wood Brothers Racing.
Ganassi presumably has Texaco/Havoline as a sponsor for the third team, and now he doesn't have a driver. And if Spencer doesn't show improvement in his finishes, Ganassi might have two openings.
''I know I can still win races,'' Spencer said. ''Today the sport is so competitive. I don't care what you're driving, it's about team chemistry the driver having confidence in the crew and the crew having confidence in the driver. That's the thing I think you need more than anything else.''
A win or two in the next couple months wouldn't be bad, either.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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