Monday, August 27, 2012

Rating the Irwin Tools Night Race: 5 Stars *****

Now that’s some good old-fashioned Bristol racing. The annual night race at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile was a slugfest that brought out the beating and banging that made Bristol Motor Speedway famous. The track changes worked. The Bristol night race gets a 5 Star Rating.
Denny Hamlin got the win in rather mundane fashion, but everything that happen up to the final run was stuff we hadn’t seen in the Sprint Cup Series in quite some time.
Sure, the finish at Watkins Glen was exciting, and Jimmie Johnson’s blown motor with five laps to go at Michigan prevented a matter-of-fact finish, but everyone got up on the wheel from the drop of the green flag Saturday in Bristol.
The bump-and-run returned to Bristol after track owner Bruton Smith decided to shave off the top groove of the track to create less racing space. His hope was to bring back a narrow groove that forced drivers to bump each other for position. Smith got what he asked for, although perhaps not in the way he envisioned.
Instead of the reconfiguration sending everyone hunting for the bottom of the track, the drivers spent all night fighting for the very top of the track, right where Smith took away the banking. But the passing dynamics that existed at Bristol before Smith installed progressive banking in 2007 still came back with a force.
It became impossible to pass on the low side throughout the night, so drivers had to nudge (or forcefully push) each other out of the way to gain a spot. That’s what gave us the most memorable part of the night.
Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart battled for the lead on lap 332. Stewart got a run on the high side, but Kenseth didn’t leave him much room. They started trading paint and eventually slid across the frontstretch and crashed into the inside wall.
Stewart jumped out of his car and waited for Kenseth to come around pit lane. As Kenseth came around, Stewart threw his helmet off the front of Kenseth’s hood and then turned around to salute the fans.
That’s the kind of stuff that has been missing from the sport of late. Notice that Stewart was not called to the NASCAR hauler after the race and won’t receive any penalties for his actions.
Some people will moan and groan that Saturday night’s race wasn’t “real racing” because there were 13 cautions and wrecks all over the place. That’s fine. Those folks can watch “real racing” at tracks such as Chicagoland, Kansas and Fontana. Saturday night’s race was fun, intense and has fans a lot more pumped up about NASCAR than any race this season outside of the Watkin’s Glen finish.
Hopefully the momentum from Bristol will carry on to Atlanta and Richmond to finish the regular season. All of a sudden the monotonous races from the first half of the season seem like they are far in the past.
That’s a good thing as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for its Labor Day weekend race. The points standings heading into the final two races before the Chase are as tight as ever, and that should make for exciting finish to the season.
Have a great week and blessed holiday weekend, everybody.


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