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What is the DEAL?

Here's the deal.

Sometimes it's a verb, but most times a noun. Sometimes it's good, but mostly, it's a nice way to say something bad. It's a complex situation summed up in a single word.

What is the deal?

Why, anything at all.

The word "deal" is an integral part of NASCAR racing. There is no limit to its definitions, no end to its practical uses. Can't think of the right word? Try "deal." Don't feel like explaining what happened? Call it a "deal."

Everyone will understand.

"It's an all-encompassing word that means a guy hit me; I wrecked a guy; I blew up; I lost my sponsor; my truck ran off the road and wiped out everything we had. "It's just one of those deals,' " Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty said. "It means you don't really want to go into details, you don't want to talk about it."

Quite possibly, the racin' deal was invented at Bristol Motor Speedway, a short-track gem in the eastern Tennessee mountains. Bristol is a .533-mile high-banked oval better suited to roller derby than stock cars. Think hamster wheel. Blender. Washing machine spin cycle. Then add 43 sets of fenders, bumpers and fuses.

Short fuses.

Remember 1995, when Rusty Wallace flung a water bottle at the late Dale Earnhardt? Just one of those racin' deals. Remember 1997, when Jeff Gordon tapped Wallace's rear bumper coming off Turn 4 of the final lap to win? Yep, racin' deal. Remember 1999, when Earnhardt spun leader Terry Labonte to win the night race?

Uh-huh, racin' deal.

But a deal is not always an on-track incident. There are as many varieties of deals in NASCAR as Forrest Gump's pal, Bubba, had ways to prepare shrimp: Good deal. Bad deal. Strange deal. Awesome deal. Do the deal. On the deal. New deal. Old deal.

It is ever-evolving.

"When I first started racing, everybody wanted to be on the deal," said Winston Cup veteran Mark Martin, who will make his 500th career start Sunday at Bristol. "If you were on the deal, that meant you got stuff for free. And we didn't have much money, so we needed to be on the deal. If you were on the deal, that meant something."

When Ricky Craven, a college graduate and native of New England, first arrived on the NASCAR scene more than a decade ago, he had a hard time figuring out exactly what a deal was because it seemed always to be something different.

"I heard a driver being interviewed who used the word "deal' as a noun and a verb in the same sentence," Craven said. "He used it in so many different ways that I thought, What is the definition of deal? But I guess it's synonymous with racing."

Near the end of last season, owner Robert Yates tested the word's limit and found it held up under extreme pressure. Trying to assure people that crew member Bobby Burrell, injured in a pit road accident at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was doing well at a local hospital, he explained that Burrell "tried to bust out of his deal."

Imagine all the cumbersome dialogue doctors could dispense with if, rather than give instructions to administer intravenous fluids and oxygen, they spoke NASCAR's universal language: "Nurse, hook this patient up to the breathing deal."

Alas, don't fight it.

Craven tried, and failed. Several years ago, he went on an anti-deal crusade, vowing not to fall into the easy trap of substituting "deal" for more descriptive language.

Petty could have told him that deal was doomed.

"You know, every driver that's ever come along has said "deal' from the very beginning of time," Petty said. "It's part of the sport's terminology, like "wedge' or "push' or "loose' or "blowed up.' "

Yep, just one of those deals.