Monday, March 23, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Food City 500--after the fact

Bristol Motor Speedway has been a part of NASCAR history since 1961, and has been one of the biggest challenges for the drivers. Theoretically a short track, at a little more than a half mile in length, its high banks allow higher speeds than would be seen at a normal short track. Until its reconfiguration two years ago, those higher speeds would be at single file along the inside line, with the only method of passing being the fabled "chrome horn."

The reconfiguration was made on the theory that fans would rather see side by side racing, and the track became a multiple-grooved venue where the drivers could find a racing line either on the outside and the inside, or even in the middle. The prospect of three wide racing at the Roman Colosseum of NASCAR racing was exciting.

Now instead of one line of frustrated drivers having to spin other drivers and getting spun, we have two lines of such action. As the drivers and teams get a handle on the Sprint Cup car, which was reconfigured around the same time as Bristol, it actually makes the racing at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile" more difficult.

It is also difficult to write a play-by-play for Bristol, as things happen so quickly that there is no keeping up with the action while we are typing it. The laps roll by so quickly, at fifteen seconds, that we can mention a driver's name, and by the time we're finished typing it, something changes. Without help from the radio broadcast--PRN and MRN no longer have an on air venue in Colorado Springs--we are stuck with what we see on the television broadcast.

After Dave Blaney crashed early in the race, there was little for demolition derby fans to get excited about. Not to say there wasn't any beating and banging--there was plenty of that. At Bristol, as at any short track, the leaders often have to battle lapped traffic. So the air was filled with the cacophony of chrome horns.

Saturday, Kyle Busch looked like a sure winner in the Nationwide Series race, He dominated the race, never giving up the lead for more than a few laps. Late in the race, during what would be the final caution period, his pit crew let a tire roll out of the box as Busch was leaving his pit, incurring a penalty which gave the lead to Kevin Harvick and put Kyle at the end of the longest line. Harvick was Happy as he won his first race as an owner/driver, while Busch managed to work his way to a sixth place finish, and was very unhappy.

Today, in a different car with a different pit crew, Kyle Busch is, once again, dominating. As the laps wind down, there is little competition for him. Denny Hamlin is behind him, and behind him is Jimmie Johnson.

Although he is known as a short track ace, Jimmie Johnson has never won a race at Bristol. True to the form of a champion, a top ten finish isn't good enough. Today, Johnson looks good. If it was anybody else but Kyle Busch in the lead with less than ten laps left, Jimmie Johnson would be smelling victory.

Jeff Gordon's car doesn't look so good--it's bouncing and sliding all over the place, but he has skill, and he has been showing off that skill in every race so far this season. He has done the best he could with a car that obviously doesn't handle well, and that is pretty darn good as he is running in fourth at the end of the race.

Kasey Kahne has managed to fend off disaster, and will finish where he started--fifth place, while pole winner Mark Martin finishes in sixth.

So we get a GWC finish after Joey Logano's engine lets go. From similar situations in the past, we know that if Kyle is leading the race at this point, the only way to catch him is on the restart. Nothing doing, Kyle wins, mimes drinking a beer from a can thrown to--or at--him, and celebrates by doing a Polish victory lap the right way, without the clowning for which his brother is known.

Dale Jr performed well with a fourteenth place finish--well, because he went down a lap three times during the race, and managed to stay in position to get the free pass three times. Of course we are going to hear more criticism of his crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr, as always straight spoken and honest, tells us that what the media reports (about Eury's suitability as crew chief) is nothing like reality.

Racing is never boring. If the fans don't like it, that probably means the race is a challenge, and therefore exciting, for the drivers. When we can imagine ourselves being in the driver's seat, we can get much more out of the race. We feel the urgency of Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose or Juan Pablo Montoya to finish high enough to ensure a starting spot in the next race, and we feel the relief as they did just that. We are in Denny Hamlin's head as he is planning on how to catch and pass his teammate to win a race that has become very important to him personally, and feel his disappointment as he sees the #18 car disappear into the distance with one lap to go.

Kyle Busch should make racing better overall, as the other drivers and teams figure out what they need to beat him. More drivers, Jeff Gordon in particular, and taking up his practice of never being happy with the car, to make his team perform better and work to make the car better. Whether the fans like Kyle Busch or not, he is good for the sport.

Rev' Jim's favorite races are at the short tracks, and this was no exception. It was short track racing, with side by side contests all around the track and all through the race. That's Bristol, and That's racing.

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