Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rating the Irwin Tools Night Race: 2 Stars **

The action at the Bristol night race wasn’t all that exciting, but the guy who won the race continues to shock the world as the #2 car got win #3 on the season. The story is incredible, but the race gets a 2 Star Rating.

Brad Keselowski’s win at Bristol was another I-can’t-believe-I’m-watching-this moment, and the #2 team is in the midst of one of the most remarkable mid-season turnarounds in NASCAR history. Plus, Keselowski broke his ankle to get it all started.

Keselowski sat 23rd in the points standings just six races ago at New Hampshire, where he finished 35th. Since then he has ripped off a jaw-dropping five straight top 10s, four top fives and two wins with a worst finish of ninth at Indianapolis.

We’ve seen drivers get on this type of hot streak before, and there is usually at least one each season. Last year all Denny Hamlin did was win during the first half of the 2010 season as he visited Victory Lane five times, and Jimmie Johnson has gone through stretches a few times in his five-year championship run where he is literally unbeatable.

But, most of the time these drivers and teams are already Chase contenders and have shown strength either early in the season or previously in their career to indicate a run like that is possible, but Keselowski had just two top fives and a fuel mileage win before he caught fire.

Now he has people talking that he might be a championship threat, rather than just a Chase threat.

Before this recent run of success, Keselowski spent much of the year between 22nd and 28th in the standings. That means he was consistently running races comparable to Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex Jr. Now he is running with, and beating, drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

No matter what happens from here on out, Keselowski’s 2011 season will go down as one of the most shocking seasons ever.

As for Saturday night’s race, there were only six cautions, with three of those for debris. The cars of David Reutimann and Mark Martin are the only cars that had to go to the garage for damage. All of the other contenders had very clean races.

While this discussion could quickly turn into the new Bristol vs. old Bristol debate, the Nationwide race had nine cautions and many cars were torn up in wrecks.

Yes, the style of racing is drastically different at Bristol since the repave, but the best of the best race at the Sprint Cup level. Plus, with only a couple of Rookie of the Year candidates each year, the same basic group of drivers has been on the track together for the past four years or so. Keselowski and Joey Logano are the only two newcomers of consequence since the end of the ill-advised open-wheel invasion of 2008.

The current Nationwide group has a lot of drivers without much experience and they tore cars up like they were still racing on the old surface.

While the Cup drivers had to work hard in the car to pass each other because it was next to impossible to pass on the low side of the track, those battles only happen at a few spots throughout the field while everybody else settles into single file.

Anyway, next week the series heads to another fun night race; this time at Atlanta for Labor Day weekend. This race is even more special now that it’s the only time NASCAR visits during the season and there will be a lot going on with the points situation, the extra money on the line for certain drivers, and the fact that it’s the Labor Day weekend race. Have a good week, everybody.


  1. Seems good ol' Bruton has gotten into the habit of shooting himself in the foot... This just adds credence to my argument that the road courses have become the most exciting form of racing NASCAR has to offer.

    Bruton has corrupted Bristol and then there are his cookie cutter tracks. The Frances have their repaved two car tango superspeedways and even more cookie cutter tracks. Dover and Pocono are unique but we still get boring single file racing... What's that leave? A couple of the older short tracks and the road courses.

    Rememeber in the 70's when all those cookie cutter multi-purpose stadiums popped up around the country? Baseball in particular figured out they'd lost the uniqueness of each city's stadiums. They made a conscious effort to go back to their roots and built "throw back" stadiums. I think it's time for NASCAR to take a hard look at the problem with all these tracks that have spawned a boring brand of racing and then look at what made venues like the earlier Bristol or Rockingham or (fill in the blank with old tracks that are now long gone) and rebuilt replicas of those exciting old tracks...

    There, got that out of my system for the time being...

  2. Still fun to watch cars always around each other but it sure ain't the Bristol of old!

    BK is a phenom right now...God knows how that happened! Go team Penske!

    Atlanta used to be a great track too and has become less entertaining of late...lets hope they put on a good show as those on the bubble start to panic

  3. Dwindy1 - Bring back the Rock! Sounds like that might be a real possibility next season at least at the truck or Nationwide level. There's a move that would be extremely refreshing.

    klvalus - Hopefully the tires are ready to go for the Atlanta race. I wonder how long it will be before they start talking about repaving that track. Personally, I hope they hold their tongue. We need old race tracks.

  4. The racing at Bristol suffers just as much from its proximity to the Chase cutoff as from the reconfiguration.

    Bruton didn't rework the surface at Richmond... but the "racing" there in two weeks will be just like it was at Bristol. No one will take any chances for fear of missing the Chase, or of ruining a contender's chance at the Chase.

  5. Gene - Richmond might be exciting if a guy like Clint Bowyer has to win to get in the Chase. Although he's got a long way to go after that Bristol performance.