NASCAR Under The Lights At Bristol from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Well… it’s that time again. Yeah, it’s time for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Teams to take on the Bristol Motor Speedway and this trip it is under the lights. “Saturday Night Under The Lights – Saturday Night Under The Lights!!” Forgive me but, every time I think about NASCAR’s Saturday night races, those words seem to always ring out in my mind. Although it was quite a long time ago, that was from and old radio commercial for the races every Saturday night on the favorite station my friends and I listened to in our area down in Florida where I live. Admittedly it was from a track I never frequented while driving my own stock car. Mostly that was because it was a three hour pull each way to get there if we wanted to go there to race but it was on the same night as our local races at our local tracks. I do admit though, the ad really made me want to…

The track at Bristol goes, or at least has gone, by several names over the years. The most memorable have been Bristol International Speed way, Thunder Valley and the latest,
Bristol Motor Speedway. No matter what you like to call it, it’s probably always going to be referred to by most as “It’s Bristol Baby!” One thing about it that will probably never change is the statement that calls it what it is – The world’s fastest half mile track. From this fan’s view and the view of many others, it is definitely that.

I’m sure you’re getting tired of hearing it but there are only three races left until the playoffs and that means extra tension and intensity will be added to an already intense and emotionally charged race. There are three that are already qualified by points and several more that would like to win and hopefully make it in to the playoffs. Nothing has changed from last week. Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth are still in on points if one of the drivers below them doesn’t win and knocks one of them out. In fact, if there are three new winners over the next three weeks and one of them is none of the three mentioned, all three of them wouldn’t make it into the playoffs.

One of the biggest problems facing any of those that want to win to get in or to just get into the playoffs by points is that it is likely someone is going to win the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. It just probably isn’t going to be someone that hasn’t won already this season. The two likeliest drivers from this fan’s view would be the two Kyles, Kyle Bush and Kyle Larson. Kyle Bush has already won twice at the track this week and both he and Larson like running the top of the track.

I guess right now your thinking, “Hey Rusty, did you forget that Erik Jones won the pole?” No, I didn’t forget and I am glad for Erik that he won his first Cup pole at the prestigious and historic Bristol track. You see, it’s just that I don’t put a whole lot of stock in pole positions meaning all that much during a race. Of course I know the pole winner gets great pit selection and I know sometimes the pole winner actually does win the race. My problem with it is that more often than not, the person that generally wins isn’t the one sitting on the pole. In fact, it can often be someone sitting in the middle or back of the field and just didn’t have a great, or even good, qualifying lap. With the PJ1 (also known as “Sticky Stuff” ) being used on the track, it is my view that it won’t last throughout the race and the top groove will be where just about everyone ends up running by the end of the night.

The Hendrick Teams looked to be struggling for speed during the practice sessions and in qualifying and it could be a long night for most, if not all, of the HMS teams. Yeah, I know there were some bright moments but this fan just didn’t see the usual speed and balance they usually acquire by qualifying and race time. I can’t tell if they are holding back and trying not to show what they really have for the playoffs or if they just don’t have the edge yet. Chase Elliott has shown a little consistency in the speed department along with Kasey Kahne (well, at least somewhat when it comes to Kasey) but Jr. and Johnson just haven’t looked all that good for a while. Jr. appears to just be struggling to find the speed and handling and Johnson just hasn’t had the speed or the handling.

When it comes down to it, Jr. still needs that win if he wants to have a chance at making it into the playoffs is this his final year. As it stands right now, at least from this fan’s view, he still hasn’t got that snownball’s chance in that very hot place I mentioned last weekend to make it in without getting a win. The pressure is definitely on for him and his team but unfortunately, without a win he won’t be in.

The same goes for the Penske Ford’s… neither Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski have shown the consistency it takes to win at Bristol and, although this fan thinks either of them could step it up and take the win, I just don’t see it happening. That would definitely be bad news for Joey Logano because as it stands right now, he is another one that won’t be in unless he wins one either at Bristol or one of the remaining tracks before the playoffs start.

So let’s see… the drivers will have to contend with the PJ1 slowly disappearing as the race progresses, the stages, the tight pit road and tight pit stalls and high emotion and elevated stress levels for those trying to win or just make it in for 500 laps. Add to that the fact that the Bristol Motor Speedway is the fastest half mile track in the world and drivers that want to get to the front by going two and three wide on a regular basis and there will be frustration and high emotions (which is just a normal thing for racing Saturday Night Under The Lights) and you have one thing… That’s right, “It’s Bristol Baby!!!”

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© August 19, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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