Bristol Motor Speedway rarely disappoints.
NASCAR’s top three touring series took on the high banks of Thunder Valley this weekend, where fans were treated to three fantastic races.
Thursday night’s (Sept. 16) Camping World Truck Series event may have been plagued by a lot of yellow flags, but the competition was close and the action was intense. Chandler Smith capped off the night with his first victory, winning a mad scramble for the lead in the closing laps. The victory allowed Smith to keep his championship hopes alive and advance to the next round of the Truck playoffs.
The Xfinity Series race Friday was another thriller. Thanks to an overtime restart, Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger found themselves fighting for the race win and regular season championship. Their battle ended with both drivers sliding sideways across the finish line. When the smoke cleared, Allmendinger captured the win and enough points to top Cindric for the regular season title. It was a spectacular finish to a race that kept fans guessing who would win all the way to the checkered flag.
Then, it was time for the Cup Series to take center stage on Saturday night. As the last race of the Cup Round of 16, Bristol offered both gutsy performances and frayed tempers among the playoff drivers. It also featured another thrilling battle for the win, this one between Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.
Elliott was out of contention for the victory after contact with Harvick cut his left front tire. But after returning from the pits, Elliott was able to retaliate against Harvick by disrupting the No. 4’s progress through lapped traffic. Larson caught both drivers and slipped past Harvick with four laps to go, taking his sixth victory of the year.
In classic Bristol fashion, Elliott and Harvick were left fuming at each other after a heated discussion on pit road. Both drivers eventually departed to Elliott’s hauler to discuss the matter further.
However, do not think for a minute that the conflict is over between them. Harvick has proven in the past that when put in a corner, he will do whatever it takes to stay in championship contention, whether that means pulling off a clutch win or putting the bumper to his competition. But if Harvick does retaliate, Elliott will not go away quietly. Just ask Denny Hamlin how badly crossing Elliott can go.
Both Harvick and Elliott have advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but making enemies in the postseason only tends to make your path to the title harder.
Leave it to Bristol to stir the pot among championship contenders and provide a thrilling weekend of racing.
It’s too bad we have to wait a year to see it all again.
When NASCAR released the 2022 Cup schedule earlier this week, it confirmed previous assurances that Bristol’s spring event will once again be a dirt race. Oddly, the new date for the event is Easter Sunday, a holiday weekend when NASCAR has typically avoided scheduling races.
Regardless of the date, Bristol will once again temporarily become a dirt track next year. This commitment means the Cup Series will race only once on Bristol’s more familiar concrete surface.
Once a year is not enough. NASCAR and its fans are really missing out by not having two Cup races on Bristol pavement each year.
Dirt makes Bristol an entirely different track. Seeing modern NASCAR drivers and teams race on dirt was a great experience, and it is something that the sanctioning body should continue to explore in the future. But if dirt racing is going to remain a fixture in the Cup Series, it should not come at the cost of a concrete surface race at Bristol. The logistics and expense that it takes to cover Bristol in dirt and remove it each year makes it hard to see the current plan becoming a long-term solution.
NASCAR would be better off partnering with a permanent dirt track, like Eldora Speedway or Knoxville Raceway. Both parties would have to make sure that the track has the infrastructure to host a Cup race, but it would be a one-time fix instead of constantly trucking dirt in and out of Bristol.
Yes, Bristol’s spring race has suffered from declining attendance in recent years, but dirt isn’t the only way to fix that problem. It is not hard to understand why a lot of fans reacted negatively to Bristol’s 2007 reconfiguration. Adding progressive banking to the turns took away the massive advantage of Bristol’s low groove and reduced the amount of high-contact racing which fans had grown accustomed to seeing.
But ever since NASCAR began adding the PJ1 traction compound to Bristol’s low groove, the bottom lane has made a comeback. In particular, the Truck and Xfinity races there had most drivers fighting for the low groove throughout the evening.
In the Cup race, the preferred line was more of a moving target, but the track still produced great racing. Even if the bottom line was not dominant the whole time, the event did not lack for excitement or angry drivers. No matter which line is fastest, or whether it’s the summer night race or a daytime spring race, events at Bristol are always characterized by sustained high speeds, close quarters between cars and the management of lapped traffic. Those factors create an environment for the type of drama and driver conflict fans crave.
Look no further than last year’s spring race for proof. That event was very similar to this weekend’s in terms of action and quality of racing. It even ended with a conflict between Elliott and Joey Logano that was similar to the incident with Harvick that cut Elliott’s tire.
The only real differences between the summer and spring races are atmosphere and a matter of perception. Since the night race is now part of the playoffs and about a month after its more traditional mid-August date, suppose NASCAR brought back the second concrete Bristol race and moved it to May or June? The prospect of warmer weather, hopefully with less rain, might entice more fans to show up.
NASCAR could even start the race during the daytime and have it end under the lights, just to give fans a taste of Bristol’s electric nighttime atmosphere. Since there is no fundamental difference in the type of racing Bristol offers in the spring, summer or early fall, it should not be difficult to turn the spring race back into a must-see event, no dirt required.
Bristol may not always have the same type of racing it regularly featured in the 1990s and 2000s, but what we have now is still great. There is no track on the current schedule you can count on for a good race more than Bristol. If NASCAR needs to get its dirt racing fix, the sanctioning body has other options. Bristol, on the other hand, offers a type of racing experience no other track can completely replicate, and it’s a shame we have to wait a year to see it again.
After all, when Bristol produces racing like what we saw this weekend, who needs dirt?
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.