Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rating the Jeff Byrd 500: 3 Stars ***

The Sprint Cup Series dropped into Thunder Valley this weekend for the first short-track race of the season. The race had moments of good, hard racing, but nothing that will make anybody remember this one. The first Bristol race gets a 3 Star Rating.

Sunday’s race almost fit the 3 Star description perfectly: OK race, last 30-40 laps drag out and a late caution, or in this case many late cautions, causes all strategy to disappear.

Unfortunately, this race felt rather similar to the one in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Had Kyle Busch not blown an engine in the race at Vegas, the same two drivers may have fought for the win in that one, as well.

Yes, the race had 17 lead changes and 10 cautions, which included two seven-car pileups, but Bristol is turning into more and more of a shorter version of Dover than the Bristol everyone remembers. The three-car battle at the end among Busch, Edwards and Jimmie Johnson was almost intense, but Edwards and Johnson just couldn’t keep up as Busch won his second race of the weekend to take home both the Nationwide and Cup trophies.

I’m not saying the race should have come down to the final lap with cars side-by-side, but there have been countless races similar to this one.

Also, where was everybody? The stands were nowhere close to full. It will be interesting to see what the TV ratings say, and while there were still reportedly about 120,000 people at the track, this race had the most open seats of any Cup race this season and that number is down from the 138,000 who attended last year’s race. Did the economy suddenly get worse again?

Anyway, back to what actually happened on the track.

The three drivers who separated from the pack on the final run certainly deserved to be there. Right now, they are the best three drivers in the sport, and it was fun to see them go head-to-head. If this continues, we could be in for a repeat of 2008 where Busch, Edwards and Johnson won a combined 24 of the 36 races.

However, each race this season has come down to a duel between a few drivers that leaves everyone thinking this will be the group that battles for the championship. First it was Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch at Phoenix, and then it was Edwards and Tony Stewart at Vegas. Now, Edwards, Busch and Johnson will be the favorites until somebody new, or Johnson, dominates at California.

Speaking of California, that’s where the race will be next Sunday. Get ready for some five-wide racing – for the lap or two after a restart, and then enjoy the long green-flag runs that follow. Hey, at least that’s better than if they ran most of the race under caution.


  1. Hey Jacob!

    Maybe people are just plain scared to go out these days...

    Yep, it was a three. Are we rating races based upon whether there's a shoot out at the end or not? Seems NASCAR was doing everything they could to give us those end of race moments, but it got so obvious the fans began complaining...

    So now it's a new season and they're evidently going to let the races play out without intervention and we in turn rate them "middle of the road" so to speak...

    Will the lack of creativity on NASCAR's part lead to very special races that are few and far between? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

    Thank goodness the tires got changed to a known commodity...


  2. Dwindy1 - Absolutely not. Those races where the end is "exciting" because of a debris caution do not get a higher rating based on that. Those debris cautions are a pet-peeve of mine because they take away the integrity of the race.

    For example, the race at Phoenix would've been a good one even if there hadn't been the late caution because the racing was tight and Gordon and Busch were pretty evenly matched and Gordon would've still had to chase Busch down after his slow stop under green.

    As you said, not every race is going to have a great finish, just as every NCAA Tournament game this weekend didn't have a great finish. That's what makes the great ones special and is one of the reasons I've said in the past that NASCAR doesn't need to mess with the racing through the means of debris cautions.

  3. A 3 indeed - although some of the racing was pretty intense and it was eons better than what we will be seeing on Sunday.

    Kyle, JJ and Carl are coming out of the box hot but I'll put in a plug for Kurt - 4 top 10s and points lead - he's making some noise too.

    Bristol won't ever go back to the way it was...get used to it! (And the drivers "love" the new racing at Bristol according

  4. Definitely three stars.

    When did the economy get better? $3.50+ per gallon of gas may have kept some folks home.

  5. The somewhat exciting finish is the only reason this race even earned three stars. Next week at Fontana is when Jimmie Johnson will emerge as one of the front runners or the front runner...

  6. I agree... couldve been a little better, but I still love Bristol.

    I don't know about Cali though, with the changes to the nose and the spoiler, the added downforce could improve Auto Club racing froma 1 to a 2 star...

  7. klvalus - Kurt Busch certainly has been the Kevin Harvick of this season. That team looks like it has staying power at the top.

    Bristol might not go back to how it was, but there are plenty people who wish it would.

    Gene - I'm not saying the economy has gotten better, but I don't think it's drastically worse than it was last year at this time, at least not enough to keep an additional 20,000 people away.

    Brent - It will be interesting to see if the #48 comes off the hauler fast, or if they stick to that supposedly new strategy of making the car more consistent, which would keep Johnson from dominating the race until about halfway through.

    JD - If any track is going to test the new aerodynamics of the car, it will be California. This race will still be a good measuring stick to see who has the best engine/aero packages this season.