Saturday night’s race was held in The Coliseum of Chaos, Bristol Motor Speedway. Fans piled in, waiting to see if Bruton Smith’s changes would help reach the goal: bring Old Bristol back. By ‘Old Bristol,’ I mean the bumping and grinding, flaring tempers, and an exciting finish to cap off the night. Smith chose to grind down the top groove to, apparently, shift everyone to the bottom again.
Yet, with these changes, the high side ended up holding more rubber than the bottom. Throughout the weekend, we only saw the best cars make the bottom work.
The Cup race was exactly what the fans, and even NASCAR, needed.
The Bristol Spark
With qualifying rained out, NASCAR lined everyone up by first practice speeds, the fastest being first. That put Casey Mears in the first spot, Brad Keselowski the second car on the front row. I knew this was going to be good; I’m not saying that Mears is a bad driver, but he isn’t a name you see often on the top of the scoring pylon. Against a heavy-hitting Keselowski, Mears was going to have to fight to stay up there . . .
. . . Which he did, for about twenty laps. That was one of the highlights for me, seeing him do decent.
Another surprise was Keselowski’s performance. He has recently become The Bristol King, overthrowing Kyle Busch in a way, and to see something less than lackluster is a shock. To be truly honest, I forgot about him until I heard he smacked the wall due to lapped traffic. I’m not concerned with him, though; he’s a HUGE threat going into The Chase. Don’t count him out.
The 40% of fans who wanted Bristol changed got it, and it came with great racing. Sure, there were a handful of wrecks, but we saw some great battling between Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers near the end, Denny Hamlin and Edwards, Kasey Kahne chasing down his teammate Junior, just to name a few.
The biggest part of the weekend, I believe, happened between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. They were beating and banging, sparks flying as they battled for the lead. Apparently, Stewart felt Kenseth was in the wrong, so he rammed into him, taking his own car out. Kenseth’s car was okay, so he went down pit road to get repairs. Tony, fuming and walking to the ambulance, grasped his helmet with two hands.
Taking a slight detour, he went towards Kenseth’s car and threw his helmet, hitting the hood. From what I heard, it caused a crack in the windshield.
It was the helmet-throw heard ‘round the world. The crowd went wild. Twitter blew up. Tony climbed into the ambulance and simmered. (NASCAR came out today and stated Tony wouldn’t be penalized for his actions, and that’s the smart thing to do.)
Later in the race. Regan Smith got into Danica Patrick, who was actually doing well in her first Cup start at the short track. Patrick exited her wrecked car, which settled on the apron, and walked up as far as she could go, waiting for Regan to come back around under the caution. People in the crowd began to chant, “Throw it,” as a friend at the race told me. I thought she was going to, but she just shook her finger as he went past.
Well, darn. No helmet throw from her, but it was nice to see her emotion.
The excitement was there across the board. From Trucks to Nationwide to Cup, we saw magic happen, a spark relit. Bristol lived up to its reputation of a rough and tumble track, maybe even surpassed it.
Congrats, Bruton. You did what you aimed to do, but you can’t stop here; to keep the surface like that, you’ll have to keep grinding.
I don’t think we have anything to worry about.
Welcome back, Bristol. I’ve missed you.