So how was the racing that we saw on Sunday on the half mile track? I cannot comment on how the race was seen on TV this week, I can only comment on what I saw at the track. The racing was good from my standpoint. There was a lot of racing in the middle of the pack, and there was racing at the front as well. You have to take your hat off to Kyle Busch and his abilities in all different types of vehicles to get around Bristol. Five straight races at Bristol, and five straight trips to victory lane for Busch. Congratulations to Busch and his teams, we will keep one eye looking way ahead to the night races at Bristol in August to see if the streak continues.We cannot put Bristol in the rearview mirror until we address the size of the crowd at the coliseum last weekend. I attended both Cup races last year at Bristol, and the spring race was no sold out as well last year. I can say the crowd in the spring last year was much larger. Darrell Waltrip tweeted after the race that a crowd of 100,000 was still a huge crowd. My opinion is that is short sided thinking on his part, and if NASCAR believes that as well, short sided thinking on their part. When I first moved to East Tennessee in the summer of 2006, a ticket to either Bristol race was nowhere to be found. People who had tickets would not give them up for any amount of money or item of value. Today, sadly, that is not the case for Bristol any longer. While the TV guys were at commercial break, I was listening to the booth boys on the scanner and DW said to the extent that he thought he would never have thought he would see the backstretch look the way it did (referring to the empty seats).
My first concern with DW’s comment is that I do not believe there were 100,000 people in the stands. Almost the entire backstretch of the track was empty. I put the attendance somewhere around 80,000 to 90,000. To go along with this estimate was my driver back to Knoxville. I left my parking area at roughly 5:30 PM and I was back at the house at 8:00 PM. There were cars on the interstate heading back home, but not the volume I have been accustomed to in my previous trips to Bristol.
My next concern is what does this really tell us of the state of NASCAR, and of Bristol Motor Speedway. I think NASCAR is building some momentum with the fan base and television audiences. My concern is that the heart of NASCAR is floundering in support in person at the tracks for the sport. We can debate the economy back and forth as the cause in attendance drop, but I have two reasons in my opinion this has occurred.
The first reason is Bristol specific, and it is the repaving of Bristol. This is a hotly debated topic in the NASCAR circles. When the track was resurfaced a few years ago, Bristol lost its luster. Bristol was known for close racing where you needed the chrome horn to get the car in front of you out of the way. A driver did not think of getting out of the way because you would lose multiple spots. As a fan watching Bristol, or even being there, you sort of hoped your driver was the chaser and not being chased. Today that is not the case. Although great side by side racing still occurs, there was something about Bristol and that you needed to nudge someone out of the way, or flat out send them into the catch fence. For today’s Bristol, it now comes down to what type of racing you enjoy watching. Some will argue that side by side racing is the best, while others prefer nose to tail racing with bumping out of the way. My feeling is that a lot of the older NASCAR faithful prefer the old Bristol and are not happy with the type of racing seen on the track now.
The second reason is all of the changes NASCAR continues to heap on the sport. Every year we have to figure out the new features and ways that a driver qualifies for a spot in the Chase. One year the drivers are told to be nice to each other on the track. The next year we are told the drivers should have at it. I do not blame the NASCAR faithful for having stopped watching on television and buying tickets to the races. Finally along the lines of changes in the sports was realignment of where the races are held. NASCAR was built on Southern roots. The folks who supported NASCAR for years enjoyed going to tracks such as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro Speedway. During the great growth in the early and mid 2000’s, new and old tracks gobbled up race dates and postured for additional dates on the calendar. Those who helped build the sport and were loyal before the sport went truly main stream, were left out in the cold by NASCAR. Tracks that were the history and foundation of the sport were left to having weeds grow through the cracks of the start finish line. My opinion is that NASCAR is now reaping the benefits of some decisions of grand growth and monetary pocket lining.
It is now time for us to shift gears and move on to the IZOD IndyCar season and their opening race in St. Petersburg. If you have read my musings in the past, you already know that I am not a big fan of road racing. It ends up being boring where there are very few passing opportunities. Most of the time the cars run nose to tail and are happy to stay where they are at.
I am looking forward to seeing this race this weekend though. I want to see how the teams get out of the gates in the first race of the season. I also want to see how the lucky dog and side by side restarts in the IndyCar series change the strategy in these races.I do not have a pick to win for the race, but I am curious to see if Herdanicaship (Danica Patrick) can run somewhat better on the road courses than she did last year. I also want to see how Tony Kanaan runs with his new team. Yes, Tony found a ride and is ready to go.
It is now time for what you have all been waiting for, my fantasy pick for the Auto Club 400 in California this weekend. Roush Fenway is the way to go this week, and Carl Edwards is going to get it done. Edwards is running strong and I think he gets his second win of the year at California.
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The wreck of the week is, well I am sure you guessed it, Herdanicaship putting herself into the wall. The clip starts after the wreck so you get to see the arm flailing as well, but it gives the wreck as well. Have a great week!