Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rating the Food City 500: 3 Stars ***

Six favorites crashed out just 26 laps into the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but after that everybody played nice as Brad Keselowski picked up his second Bristol trophy. Overall, the fourth race of the season gets a 3 Star Rating.

Some people might go off the edge and say Sunday’s race was boring and lacked any kind of excitement, but the race wasn’t horrible. For those who like wrecks, hopefully they tuned in early. For others who like hard, clean racing, the final 450 laps were enjoyable.

Unless track owner Bruton Smith changes his mind and decides he doesn’t like the current style of racing, the old beat-and-bang racing is gone and it’s not coming back. The funny thing is the type of racing we saw Sunday would be considered intense and exciting at almost any other racetrack. People simply have different expectations for Bristol.

However, the race doesn’t get a rating higher than a three for a reason. Keselowski had the best car of the day and drove away for the win. Matt Kenseth tried hard to keep up, but he did not have a car that handled well enough at the end to really challenge for the win. The Keselowski-Kenseth battle was actually fairly similar to the Tony Stewart-Jimmie Johnson battle a week ago at Las Vegas.

Also, many of the promos for this week’s race included old footage of wrecks and overheated drivers getting angry at each other. But the only real angry battle between two drivers at Bristol since the reconfiguration in 2007 was Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards driving into each other after the checkered flag of the 2008 night race.

Other than Busch slamming the roof of his car as he got out after his early wreck, everybody else came back to the garage peaceful and ready to pack up and head home.

That has also been the case for the entire season to date. The drivers have been incredibly level-headed to open the season. Even after questionable incidents on the track such as when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin bumped at Las Vegas, the drivers kind of shrugged their shoulders and moved on. The same could be said after all of the wrecks during Speedweeks, as well.

I’m not saying we need to have drivers angry at each other all the time. This is a sport that doesn’t need sideshow spectacles to be entertaining. The point is this is the quietest start to a season in regards to drivers’ emotions since the famous “Have at it, boys” edict before the start of the 2010 season.

One of the most surprising aspects of the race at Bristol was how well the three Michael Waltrip Racing cars of Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers ran, particularly Vickers.

Vickers hadn’t been in a Sprint Cup Series car since the final race of 2011 at Homestead before his Red Bull Racing team shut down. He ruffled a lot of feathers late in the season with rough driving, but he sure made the most of his opportunity Sunday in the #55 car.

Vickers led 125 laps and dominated the first half of the event. If the race had been 250 laps, he may have shocked the world and ended up in Victory Lane.

It will be interesting to see where his career heads from here on out. He has five more races this season in the #55 car and might drive his way back into a full-time ride again sooner rather than later.

So, next week NASCAR heads out to everybody’s favorite race on the schedule: the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif. Last year was probably the best race at the track when Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson for the win on the final lap.

However, considering we haven’t had more than a 3 Star race yet this season, the chances of busting out the first 4 or 5 Star race at California aren’t very good.

In any case, have a great week, everybody.

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