It’s Saturday Night Racing At Bristol, Baby from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman
There is nothing like a summer Saturday night at the racetrack. It’s where many of us grew up watching the stock car races at our local tracks in our hometowns. When NASCAR shows up to Bristol on a Saturday night in the summertime, well, it’s always something special and it is always exciting. In fact, it is one of the races most looked forward to in the NASCAR season. Like I said – it’s Bristol, baby!

What is it about Bristol that makes it so popular and why is it that so many look forward to the summertime night race at Bristol? That is a great question and I am glad you asked it…

Unfortunately I can only offer you my opinion and thoughts on the subject and not all of them are based on actual facts. Instead it is based on experience from attending races and driving in them on Saturday nights for many years. That may not mean a lot to some but to others, well, if you’ve done the same thing (whether attending, driving or both) then you really know what I’m talking about. Bristol is a short track and it is a fast track and it contains all of the things fans love about racing – fast speeds, high emotions and, yes, even temper flare ups.

There is just something about Saturday night races in the summertime. I know I started attending races with my mom and dad (and my sister, too) when I was very young at the dirt tracks in our hometown in Southern Illinois. It was a big deal as I remember and the stands were always full, the racing was great and the fans were totally involved.

I used to ride my bicycle around the part of town in my neighborhood where I knew there were race cars. They were at gas stations, private residences and other places and I used to just ride up and look at the cars, absorbing all I could about them and dream about being a racecar driver. Early on, my dad and I used to go to the go kart tracks and we would race each other and others at the tracks and both of us would dream about building and driving a stock car for racing on Saturday nights at our local tracks. I was definitely hooked on racing from a very young age.

I wasn’t alone in that thinking either but, as far as I know, I was one of only a few that I grew up with in Southern Illinois that actually got the opportunity to do it when I became older (and after my parents moved us to Florida from Illinois. We actually moved to South Florida when I was 10 years old.) When I began racing regularly, I quickly learned that short track racing had high emotions on both the fan and driver side and fans loved good close and tight racing with lots of action. All of those are traits of a short track that are popular not only at a local level but they are also quite prevalent in the NASCAR series as well, especially when it is a short track like Bristol. Like I said earlier, there is just something about short track racing on a Saturday night…

So what is it about Bristol and the highly anticipated Saturday night race that keeps on bringing out the fans? Well, Bristol is the “fastest half mile in the World” or at least that’s what they say about themselves and it is. It has high banks in the turns, down the straights and it’s a place that is constantly trying to make changes for better and closer racing which always adds to the drama and emotions for the fans and the drivers. This Saturday night is no different and the track did do some work on the bottom of the track to hopefully get the bottom groove back in the racing mix. Sometimes the things they try don’t quite work out as expected but this time, (at least so far this weekend), it looks like it may have done the job.

Of course this Saturday night could be different when the Cup teams put in their full 500 laps. Judging from the Xfinity race on Friday night, it looked like there were two racing grooves (both the high and the low) and possibly even a little bit of a middle groove. That very well could make for a very interesting race and it could mean high emotions and lots of drama all the way down to the drop of the checkered flag.

If we can judge anything at all from the practices and the qualifying, the Joe Gibbs teams and the Penske Fords definitely showed up ready to take it to all and it could be long night for the Hendrick teams and others. Denny Hamlin set a new track record in the qualifying and he looked good to take the pole position. Well, that is until Carl Edwards went out and laid down a better time than Denny in the final round of qualifying. The only bright spots for the Hendrick teams was the sixth place qualifying position of Chase Elliott and the eleventh spot for Jeff Gordon (once again filling in For Dale Jr.). (Well… that is if you actually consider starting eleventh to be a bright spot…)

A little closer look at the qualifying shows that 5 out of the top seven qualifiers were either JGR or JGR associated teams. No matter how you look at it, that does not bode well for other teams if you only consider the qualifying positions for how the race might play out. Personally, this fan doesn’t usually look at qualifying as a way of foretelling which one of the 40 drivers and teams might win. Qualifying does say something about how well drivers and teams perform for one or two laps but there are several other things to consider when thinking about 500 laps around the Bristol Speedway. Some of them are pit stops, tire wear and fuel strategy just to mention a few.

Although there hasn’t been too much attention paid to possible tire problems, from this fan’s view the possibility has to be considered. The speeds are higher which could mean higher brake temperatures which could lead to heat related tire failures. I’m not saying it is a definite but if it turns out that it begins to happen, just remember where you heard it first… (I’m laughing and I hope you are too.)

Along with the possibility of tire failures, is the strategy for fuel in case it becomes a fuel mileage race and the heightened possibility of the drivers or crews making costly mistakes on pit road. Any of these could make the difference between ending up in Victory Lane or finishing way back in the field.

And then there is the emotional aspect, especially near the end of the race where everyone is getting tired and short tempered. That’s when things seem to break loose and, at the end of the night when people are talking and heading for home, the most heard statement will probably be… “That’s just Bristol, Baby!!!” And that’s just one big reason why this fan thinks Saturday night racing at this short track is so popular… Because it is Bristol, Baby!!

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© August 19, 2016 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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