Was that really a race at Bristol we watched on Sunday (March 20)? It didn’t seem like one to me. Something was missing.
Actually, it was probably a lot of somethings. Long after the checkers dropped on Kyle Busch for the second time in two days, I sat there wondering what I was looking for that I didn’t get out of the fastest 500 on the circuit, for the only two items that remained in my mind worth commenting on came from the Nationwide Series in female form.
Danica Patrick stole the show for about 30 seconds as her GoDaddy No. 7 and Ryan Truex’s No. 99 got together, dinging his machine and putting hers on the hook. She showed a bit of emotion, waving her hands and grumbling about the youngster racing hard… and that was it. By the second half of the interview, the steam was released and she was talking more like the corporate speaker we know her to be.
The second curious, but not exactly headline stealing story, appeared in the form of Jennifer Jo Cobb climbing out of her No. 79 ride during the parade laps, and then leaving with her crew. Ultimately, it was a simple economical meltdown/misunderstanding between Cobb and the car’s owner, Rick Russell. A he said/she said spat that made following Twitter worthwhile for the afternoon, but ultimately brought nothing to the race, itself.
If the ladies didn’t entertain significantly, did anything? Let’s see.
There were no monstrous crowds. The difference between the numbers present on Saturday vs. Sunday was not easily discernible thirty minutes before the green on Sunday. More seats could be seen on the backstretch than fans. The cameramen worked hard to find packed sections to demonstrate that there were honestly 100,000 people cramming the stadium. However, when you’ve got 160,000 seats to fill, it ain’t easy to fool the senses. We can blame the sparseness of ticketholders on the economy, but plenty of elbow room still takes something away from the big, beasty brawl we expect at Bristol.
Yeah, the brawl. It’s part of Bristol’s reputation. Not only should there be shortened tempers, but in the past there has always been lots of visual examples of too many cars running in too tight a space. I looked forward to a few machines running the bottom in the final 50 laps sans hood and fenders. Maybe the door panels would appear more like they’ve been attacked by trolls, but not this year. A whopping three cars left competition for reasons other than they didn’t want to run the entire distance.
Robby Gordon left from an accident, Clint Bowyer detonated his engine and something mysterious happened to Dennis Setzer’s suspension. Otherwise, if your car hit the wall or another vehicle, you pretty much just kept going with maybe a bit of tape stuck to your bumper.
What happened to the days when we needed a full third of the field in the garage before we could think about running more than 50 laps at a time?
Oh yes, the banking. Gone is the truly frightening 36-degree banking. Yes, the reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway happened four years ago and I wasn’t immediately enamored of the softer, sweeter side of this track. I figured if we gave it a couple years, it might loosen up a bit and we’d see the good ol’ days return. Sadly, no. Thirty degrees at the top and 24 at the bottom still makes it hard to maintain traction, but it just doesn’t throw those high-octane monsters at each other as brutally as it once did. The ferocious mixing bowl now sits quietly in the corner and waits for the entire distance to run without comment.
It wasn’t a horrid racing weekend, it just wasn’t the kind of event that always made me put Bristol near the top of “best races of the year” list. The leader drove away from the pack. Sometimes we saw a few competitors attempt three-wide. Accidents turned the cars into pinballs, and there was the near-disastrous right front tire issue uncovered during Friday practice that could have created havoc. But it didn’t. I read a few snarky comments from competitors, but nothing we don’t see day to day in this sport.
Sunday’s race made me wonder if we haven’t seen the end of the big, ugly Bristol we once knew and loved. I do miss it and hope the Bristol Stomp will return in the future. Anybody have a bulldozer?
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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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