1. Staying quiet seems like the new boasting
As is often the case when the NASCAR Cup Series visits a short track, and perhaps even more so when said short track is covered with generous amounts of dirt, there were several drivers who could have been excused for being big mad when they left the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track.
Kyle Larson has the fastest car early at Bristol, and even though his No. 5 Chevrolet looked slower as the night went on, he still figured to have a shot at a top-10 finish.
But he never found out, as Larson ended up tangling with Ryan Preece and his race ended early.
Larson insinuated that Preece retaliated for contact earlier in the event. Yet instead of defiantly bragging about it, Preece was a little more coy in his answer, saying he was “just not gonna keep lifting” when the time came.
Ryan Blaney was another driver who had a legitimate gripe. After fighting all race long to be in position to try for the win, he restarted on the front row with less than 10 laps to go. Then Chase Briscoe hit him, and suffice it to say, he did not finish in the top 20.
Briscoe was contrite after the race, calling it a “dumb move” on his part. He even said he expected payback, but Blaney didn’t find a microphone or camera crew to vow vengeance.
This could all just be coincidence. Or it could be a result of Denny Hamlin getting fined and having points deducted for going on his podcast and declaring to the world that, yes, he put Ross Chastain into the wall on purpose at Phoenix.
Before that penalty — which was upheld on appeal, unlike some others of late, cough, cough, Hendrick Motorsports, cough — telling everyone you either did or were going to spin someone on purpose was the cool thing to do.
Now? Not so much, it appears. That’s kind of a shame, because wherever you fall on the “rubbin’, son, is racin'” scale, hearing drivers talk about it is entertaining without being dangerous. If NASCAR wanted to legislate that out of the sport for the rest of the season, it looks like mission accomplished for now.
2. How do you solve a problem like Bristol?
Yes, we sometimes paraphrase The Sound of Music here at Frontstretch. We’re cultured like that.
It’s been a long time since NASCAR tracks provided attendance figures, so everyone is left to rely on the eye test for gauging race day crowds. The eye says the Bristol dirt race was far from sold out, and while BMS has been experiencing declining crowds for some time, this was one of the saddest-looking events for a venue that used to have a wait list for its two races.
If you recall the scientific method from your high school science classes, you’ll probably agree that the issue with the Bristol spring race is that too many variables have changed too quickly to know which one to fix. Has the novelty of covering the track with dirt simply worn off after a few years? Or is the Easter night experiment one that shouldn’t be tried again?
NASCAR should either not race Easter night at Bristol in 2024 or move the dirt race elsewhere — but not both. Otherwise we may never know why The Last Great Colosseum was so empty last holiday weekend.
3. A Cup dirt race is in a constant state of existential crisis
Several Cup drivers mentioned after Bristol’s dirt race that this was the most fun of the three editions of the race so far. Anecdotally, fans (watching on TV, one presumes, not actually at Bristol) agree, with Jeff Gluck’s “Was it a good race?” poll sitting at more than 66% good with more than 23,000 votes cast.
Larson disagrees, and adamantly at that. He not only told Frontstretch prior to the race that he thought Bristol should go back to two races on concrete, when he was asked where he’d like the Cup Series to go to for a dirt race, he answered succinctly: “None.”
That’s not just any driver, either, but a generational talent on dirt. He’s not likely to change his mind no matter how Bristol iterates to make its dirt race better.
NASCAR shouldn’t let Larson dictate what it’s doing, or any driver for that matter. But Larson’s comments illustrate the fact that a Cup dirt race is going to face a question of whether it should be happening every year. It’s a philosophical debate that will never end.
Right now, NASCAR obviously believes the upside outweighs the exhausting annual second-guessing. But it might not feel that way forever.
4. The downside of the Chicago Street Race? Traffic
The next race that may spark the same kind of hand-wringing as the Bristol dirt race won’t take place until July 2, but officials started preparing citizens of the Windy City for the ripple effects of the race on the Chicago street course April 10.
Specifically, getting the Grant Park course set up will require lane closures on some downtown streets as early as June 25, with whole roads being closed starting on June 28. CBS News Chicago said it will take “weeks” to break the street course down after the event, and claimed “won’t see roads and sidewalks fully open again until July 15.”
If the dirt race question is “Should we be doing this?,” the street race equivalent is “Is this all worth it?” For the city of Chicago, there’s the promise of tourism money flowing in, provided race fans are coming from far enough away, as well as the bragging rights that come with doing something different first.
Whether the non-race fans affected by how the course snarls already heavy Chicago traffic during the heart of the summer feel that benefits them is going to be interesting to see.
5. Prayers up for Cale Yarborough
It’s always sad when a well-known member of the NASCAR community is in poor health, but it hits home even more when it’s one of the greatest drivers of all time.
The 84-year-old Yarborough is a NASCAR Hall of Famer, and the first driver ever to win three consecutive championships (1976 through 1978) in the Cup Series. He won the Daytona 500 four times and earned a number of other honors and accolades over a stock car racing career that spanned 31 years.
We’d like to add our best wishes to all of those hoping that Yarborough pulls through whatever health challenges he’s currently facing.
About the author
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.