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Bristol: less bang for buck
Drivers squeezed through their car windows Saturday night and were virtually unanimous in their effusive praise for the new concrete surface and variable banking at Bristol Motor Speedway.
By BRANT JAMES
Published August 28, 2007
Drivers squeezed through their car windows Saturday night and were virtually unanimous in their effusive praise for the new concrete surface and variable banking at Bristol Motor Speedway. ¶ Tony Stewart gave it "an A-plus," and he's a tough grader. ¶ But many fans who had made the Nextel Cup night race inside the 0.533-mile bullring NASCAR's most coveted ticket (the track has 51 consecutive sellouts) were left wanting. Better traction in higher lines and a wider track, combined with a new nose-and-tail design on the Car of Tomorrow had all but eliminated the bump-and-run that had long decided races there. Gone was the tussle over the preferred lower line and the accompanying crumpled sheet metal and jangled emotions. Kasey Kahne, then eventual winner Carl Edwards went 'round and 'round almost unencumbered, leading 305 and 182 of 500 laps, respectively, as if circling some drain.
Drivers, happy to leave Tennessee, well, happy instead of bruised and emotionally battered, refused to consider that Speedway Motorsports sent Bristol into the sewer. Some suggested that fans who enjoy a certain amount of rubbin' in their racin' might look for more from the sport than wrecks. That's not racing - it's demolition derby. Somewhere in the middle, as usual, is NASCAR.
"We don't like running into each other all the time. Is that what y'all want us to do?" pondered Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fifth. "I want my tires to run straight. I go beating on people. I mess my car up. (Ryan Newman) ran into me there one time, almost put me in the fence, so we beat on each other a little bit over that for about 10 laps, and we got over it, I reckon, cause he quit beating on me. But other than that, I didn't have to run into anybody."
Jeff Burton bristled when asked if racing had become mundane at Bristol since the Chase for the Championship format bred caution among drivers high in the point standings. He, too, thought more passing meant a more pure form of racing.
"If you think about it, in the past there was always an attempt for a pass going on, but it was very difficult to make that pass happen," he said.
NASCAR brandished its "loop data" to bolster Burton's point, noting that the amount of green flag passes Saturday was more than from the spring race just before the track was refurbished. Scoring antennae recorded 2,147 advancements for position Saturday.
Top five in green-flag passes Saturday
1J.J. Yeley, 107 (finished 13th)e_SClB2 Jamie McMurray, 105 (26th)e_SClB3 Reed Sorenson, 87 (15th)e_SClB4t Robby Gordon, 80 (20th)e_SClB4t Martin Truex Jr., 80 (11th and started in back)e_SClBInteresting statistics, but they underscore another point: While the pack was tussling for position, the leaders were able to check out, eliminating the possibility of the type of finishes that have typified Bristol - Dale Earnhardt Sr. vs. Terry Labonte's bumper in 1999, etc. Yes, racing happens behind the leader, too, but fans come to see who wins and how they do it.
Scott Dixon's victory Sunday at Sonoma, Calif., gave him a four-point lead over Dario Franchitti atop the Indy Racing League standings, and there is empirical evidence that he won't give it back with two races left:
- He has three road/street course wins this season with another street course - Belle Isle, Mich. - this weekend. He has five career victories on such courses in the IRL. Franchitti has none, though he won 10 times in CART, whose schedule is dominated by such events. And among those was a win at Belle Isle in 1999.
- Dixon has won or finished second in five of his past six races to negate Franchitti's 65-point lead.
Aric Almirola, NASCAR: Involved in a minor accident with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 226, finished 36th in his Nextel Cup debut for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Sebastien Bourdais, Champ Car: Won in Belgium for his sixth victory this season, expanding his points lead to 53 as he seeks a fourth straight title.
David Reutimann, NASCAR: Finished third in the Busch Series race at Bristol.