Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bristol: Random thoughts and such

Last August, Bristol Motor Speedway debuted its new configuration with a concrete surface and progressive banking. Then, we saw, for the first time at Bristol, three-wide racing. Since the speedway was first paved, in 1972, "racing" at the "world's fastest half mile" meant a single file of cars moving around the bottom of the track, and the only way to gain position was to move the car in front out of the way, by making contact with the rear bumper and either forcing it to move up the track or spinning it out and off the track.
Now, the chrome horn isn't necessary, and the drivers can race each other side by side, fender to fender, and door to door (if the cars had doors). This is a feature that, after last August's race, was met with mixed reaction by the fans. Most of those who declared the race "the most boring" they have ever seen at Bristol, may have been the same ones who had yet to accept the Sprint Cup car. Or they may just miss the bump and run tactics of days past. However, the new car is not as aero dependent as the old car was, and the old Bristol style would not be the same thing, even if there was still only one groove. For most of the fans, as well as the drivers, the new configuration continues to promise racing that is very exciting for Bristol. The Cup race is, as always sold out, and the fans will not be disappointed.
Sunday's race will be Dale Jarrett's last show in the Cup series. His NASCAR career is one of the best stories in racing, and he is every bit as much a part of NASCAR history as Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip. Always the sportsman, he usually reacted to being spun out not with anger and retaliation, but with a simple shrug of the shoulders and "that's just racin'."
He participated in the sport with a sense of honor that is all too rare these days. He will be missed.
This could possibly be the last Cup race for Kyle Petty. Though he hasn't announced any intention of stepping out of the series, judging by the fact that he seems to be getting slower instead of faster, and that he will be outside the top 35 provisionals, we may not get very many chances to see him in a Sprint Cup race. He will have to qualify his way into the line up from now on, and. though he may be able to do that, there is nothing to show that he will work his way back into the top thirty-five. The pressure of having to qualify for every race may be too much for him, and it seems likely that he will step aside and find another driver for the #45 car.
But of course, I could be wrong, and Kyle Petty is far from done.
With the cars lining up on the Food City 500, according to last year's owners' points, the chances that Hendrick Motorsports will get their first win of the season at Bristol are pretty good. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are lined up on the front row. While Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, has yet to get a handle on the new car at the intermediate tracks, the short tracks and the Sprint Cup car form a combination with which he has some expertise. However, the HMS team that has the most momentum is Dale Earnhardt, Jr's #88 team. These guys seem to know what they are doing better than the 48 or the 24 team, and Bristol, even with the new pavement and configuration, is Jr's kind of track.

Formula One racing begins it's new season tonight, with the Australian GP at Melbourne. The changes in the cars for this year may be as tumultuous for the regular favorites as the Sprint Cup cars have been to the NASCAR Cup regulars, if not even more. Starting this year, the cars will no longer be allowed to have traction control or engine braking. This is no big deal for polesitter Lewis Hamilton, who has not been in Formula One long enough to get used to those features. Robert Kubica, the young Polish driver who timed BMW/Sauber into the second place on the starting grid, has never driven a car with traction control or engine braking, and Heiki Kovalainen, Hamilton's team mate for McClaren Mercedes, has had less experience with the car than Hamilton.
We see a glimmer of hope that real racing may have returned to Formula One.

Back to NASCAR, Patrick Carpentier did not get a chance to qualify for the race at Bristol due to weather. This is somewhat sad, as we have begun to like the Canadian for his wit, his enthusiasm, and his determination. Last week, he went all out in a death-defying second qualifying lap at Atlanta to make the race. We would have hoped to see him do something similar at Bristol. Now we must wait two weeks for Martinsville, a track that can't get 1/20 as many fans to attend a Cup race as PPIR got to attend a Busch Series race. (I just had to get that in while I had the opportunity.)
Juan Paul Montoya seems to have maintained his enthusiasm for racing in NASCAR. It seems even greater now than it was last year, and his enthusiasm is reflected in the fact that he still sees each race as a new challenge. When asked, on Speed TV's Trackside if he would watch the Australian GP tonight, he said no. "The first lap and the standing start are exciting and that's about it."
We may remember that the main reason Montoya gave for leaving F-1 was that he wanted to get back to real racing.
But we have to wonder why the Speed TV program Trackside even bothers to have guests. Whenever a guest driver, such as JPM, Martin Truex, Jr, or Kasey Kahne, begins to tell a story or answer a question, co-host Darell Waltrip quickly jumps in to tell one of his own stories. We get to hear Waltrip's stories every week and in several online and print publications, and personally, I have heard enough of his stories. He should, in my opinion, either let the guests tell their stories, or the producers should stop wasting DW's time with guests.

Well, I can't think of anything witty to end this post with, so I will wish everybody a happy race weekend, Happy St Patrick's Day, and, to my Wiccan and Pagan friends, Happy Complaining About St Patrick's Day Day.
Meanwhile, "It's Bristol, Baby!"


beth said...

As expected the last laps of Bristol didn't disappoint. I like what you said about Dale, even as a new fan I'm going to miss him. And Darrell needs a lozenge, good lord!

Tim Zaegel said...

I thought Bristol was a pretty solid race for the most part. I've definitely seen better days in Bristol, but the drama there at the end definitely moved this one up a few notches.