By: Drew Hierwarter
The NASCAR Sprint Cup field at Bristol Motor Speedway continues to be the tightest and the toughest to make in all of motorsports. Consider this; Patrick Carpentier made a qualifying lap on Friday that was a mere .398 seconds slower than pole winner Carl Edwards’ lap. That’s just a touch under four tenths of a second. Less than the time it takes you to blink your eyes. And Carpentier failed to make the field! If the two cars, Carpentier’s and Edwards’, started their qualifying lap side by side, Carpentier would be less than half a car length behind Edwards when they came back around. Had that lap been the last one of the race it would’ve been one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history! And yet, that time wasn’t even good enough to make it into the race. Forty three cars qualified within just a little over three tenths of a second. Most of them were separated by only one or two thousands! Things can’t get much tighter than that!
And once the dust had settled after the race on Saturday night, in many ways it was still the same old Bristol. Lots of cars had donuts on their flanks and some pretty beat up body panels. The garage area resounded with the sound of hammers and reciprocating saws as crews tried to get their damaged cars repaired enough to at least fit back into the haulers. Some drivers were angry, many were disappointed and at least one was happy enough to do a back flip.
When Bristol was re-configured a little less than two years ago, many felt they had ruined it. Bristol had a long standing reputation for being a one groove race track where the only fast way around was on the bottom of the high banked turns. And the only way to pass another car was to literally knock it out of the way. This resulted in a lot of wrecks, a lot of yellow flags, and cars parading around behind the pace car on a lot of caution laps. It also led to hot tempers and antics like driver’s throwing helmets, gestures, and a few poorly chosen expletives at each other. Some fans loved it. But the quality of the racing always suffered.
The new configuration, with it’s progressive banking, allows two and sometimes three abreast racing. Drivers now have options and can race with each other and pass without much contact. The number and length of caution periods is now much less and the actual racing is better. There were still some incidents on Saturday night but, with the exception of the seven car wreck, most were from single car spins and debris on the track. And that multi-car wreck was caused by a spotter’s error, not an aggressive move on the track.
The finish of the Sharpie 500 was still a “typical Bristol” finish however, with a bump and run late race pass for the lead, and ultimately the win. After dominating the race and leading the most laps, Kyle Busch was bumped out of the lead by Carl Edwards who made no apologies in post race interviews.
“Would he do that to me?’ Edwards said, “And he has before, so that’s the way it goes. Let’s make it real clear, I’m not apologizing for it,” Edwards continued, citing several instances where he felt like Busch took him out of races to gain positions. “We’re even. They keep talking about rivalries, we might have one now.”
You see? It’s still same old Bristol, just the way it has always been!