The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol spring race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…

1. An off-day for an elite race team

One of the top crew chiefs in the garage faced reporters after the Bristol race and gave a frank assessment of his team’s lack of speed.

“This was probably about the worst car I gave him to go race with this year,” the crew chief said. “We didn’t make a lot of headway in practice. We weren’t as good as we hoped to be.”

The driver echoed that sentiment, saying the team never hit on the right setup for the entire weekend.

“We just didn’t quite have the speed,” he said. “We just didn’t show exactly what we needed there.”

Added the crew chief: “They had us covered today. We weren’t very good, like I’ve said a dozen times already.”

Yikes. Clearly, it sounds like a very tough Sunday at Bristol for…(checks notes)…Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens?!?!

That’s crazy. In a season where Busch has already been stellar, the field somehow allowed the No. 18 team to score yet another victory and add to its already-impressive playoff point total. Busch now has 19 playoff points, which is by far the most after the first eight races under this system (12 was the previous best).

We all know there are times when Busch loses races on days he had the best car. On Sunday, he won a race where he clearly wasn’t the fastest. This is shaping up to be a long season for Busch haters yet again.

“Hopefully we can get back on our horse and give him something he can race with a little closer next week,” Stevens said.

2. Odd ending

Bristol was a really fun and interesting race from Lap 1, with all sorts of unpredictable twists (from wrecks to loose wheels) that kept the pace moving quickly. Fears of a dreadful race due to the aero effects of the new package didn’t come to fruition and the traction compound appeared to last throughout the day (instead of wearing out halfway through).

All in all, it was the best race of the season so far.

But it sure ended in an anti-climactic way. One of the Team Penske cars was headed toward victory lane — they’d been the class of the field, leading 344 laps.

And then, strangely, the Penske trio just handed the race to Busch by pitting before a restart that ultimately came with 14 laps to go.

Track position won out, with the top two finishers — the Busch Brothers — pulling away on old tires. Joey Logano went from eighth to third, but wasn’t really a threat for the win.

Later, Logano said he thought the pit decision was a no-win situation for the frontrunners.

“The last thing you want is a caution with 15 to 20 to go at Bristol and you’re the leader, because you know everyone is going to make their decision off of what you do,” he said. “If you stay out, you’ve got to expect half the field is going to pit, maybe more. If you come in, five or six stayed (out). So it’s just part of the game.”

But is it? I’m having a hard time visualizing it. If the leaders stayed out — let’s say it was only the three Penske cars and a few others — they would have been in the same situation as the Busch Brothers ended up in.

Perhaps Logano was just trying to avoid throwing his team under the bus for a strategy decision that clearly cost him the race. And for viewers at home, it certainly made for a weird ending.

3. Race recap from a parallel universe

BRISTOL, Tenn. — As continuous cheers rained down from the stands for 15 minutes following the checkered flag, Kurt Busch stood atop the victory lane building in Bristol Motor Speedway’s infield and shrugged his shoulders with a grin.

“I really wanted to beat him,” Busch said of his younger brother, Kyle. “I decided I was going to wreck him, and if I got close enough when we took the white, I was just going to drive straight into Turns 3 and 4 and wreck him.”

Busch did exactly that, sending his brother’s No. 18 car spinning and crashing as the No. 1 car crossed the finish line. Bristol fans, weary of seeing Kyle win yet another race, responded by erupting in joy as Kurt circled the track with a Polish victory lap.

It also may have sparked a rivalry at a time when NASCAR could use some bad blood.

“I’ll get him back,” Kyle said on the track’s public address system as fans showered him with jeers. “I don’t care if it takes me all season and I don’t care what the penalty is. He’ll regret this day ever happened.”

In related news, Bristol reported ticket sales saw an immediate increase for its upcoming Night Race in August.

4. Yes, we see it

The stands looked bad. Attendance has steadily been getting worse over the last decade. It’s not going to get much better anytime soon. Everyone acknowledges this. No one I’ve seen is trying to talk around this fact, nor appearing to hide it or sugarcoat it.

But given it’s 1) Not anything new and 2) Not going to change … can we please just stop talking about it for awhile? The topic is exhausting.

5. You picked a fine time to leave me

This weekend turned into a celebration of Darrell Waltrip’s career, which is probably the first of many tributes he will receive leading up to his retirement from broadcasting in late June.

Drivers gave him hugs and recorded video messages that left him emotional in the booth, and the track gave him one of its signature gladiator swords following a news conference where he shared many reflections on his time in NASCAR.

Waltrip, one of NASCAR’s all-time great drivers and a uniquely special broadcaster, deserves the fond farewells.

But they’re also long overdue. The moment Jeff Gordon stepped into the FOX booth and brought his current knowledge of the cars, teams and drivers — while Ol’ DW preferred to rely on his old-school experiences — it was painfully obvious a change was needed.

Given television’s crucial role in how NASCAR is represented, it’s absolutely fair to question whether the best product is being shown to viewers. In that sense, it’s also perfectly acceptable to look forward to a fresher voice in the booth.

Waltrip passionately defended himself on Friday, though, and it’s clear many people agree with him.

“People say, ‘He’s not relevant any more, hasn’t driven a car,'” Waltrip said. “I’ve been in the cars. I know what they feel like. I know what it feels like to win a race here. You want to listen to some guy that’s never won a race somewhere tell you how to drive a car? I don’t think so.

“I have the knowledge. I have the experience. Look, I don’t sit at home Monday through Thursday twiddling my thumbs.  I talk to crew chiefs.  I talk to drivers. … I know how they do it. I could build the damn car myself if I had to. Tell somebody else, some of these guys, build a car, see how it runs.

“Nobody shook me and said, ‘Man, it’s time to give it up.’ It’s just that time.  72 years old. I could do this til’ I’m 90.

“This is what I know, this is what I do best. I’ve loved every minute of it.  I think I’m pretty damn good at it, to tell you the truth.”

Heading into the weekend, the controversial Jenna Fryer column was a hot topic, and she got a lot of crap for it. But if anything, Fryer may have done him a favor: Rallying DW’s supporters for a celebration tour while drowning out the previously loud voices of his detractors.

35 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol spring race”

  1. Why is it that we can elect, as President, a reality television star who ridicules people for how they talk and move, yet our televising of NASCAR requires someone with an engineering degree?

    1. DW, back in my day we started 36 cars so you could spread out a bit and relax… they started 37 on Sunday and i believe 3 were out by lap 1. This is one of many reasons why its time for him to go, i respect what he’s done but its just time.

      1. while his numbers where off, the point he made was still valid. Up till the mid 90’s they actually only started 32 cars at BMS and that is a big difference at BMS when considering 43 cars up to a few years ago or the potential of up to 40 now days. They stated 37 Sunday only 1 car was out up though lap 140ish. Whether its 5 extra cars Sunday, the potential of 7 cars or 11 a few years ago. at BMS that is a big deal…..I am guessing you race at BMS often though so you would know better then him, never mind his 12 wins there…………

        You all get lost in the numbers and don’t listen to anything else.

        1. But that is the point, he tends to give bad information or information that just doesn’t make sense in the context of the discussion.. its not just that, its many many other things just like that.

          Like i said, I have a ton of respect for DW but this is professional broadcasting. Its not that hard to understand why people prefer the NBC broadcast over FOX, they just do a better job.

  2. I love Bristol and thought this was a great race. I’m bummed I couldn’t be there this year, but hopefully can make it back in a year or two. They seem to have good weather whenever I can’t be there.

  3. So while NASCAR is burning and failing we should all stick our heads in the sand and ignore the worsening attendance?

    If something doesn’t happen soon, then when the current TV contracts run out it will get really ugly because there is no way NASCAR gets anywhere close to what they got under current TV contracts. Just look at what happened when Sprint left.

    Fans need to voice their opinion because clearly the executives at NASCAR don’t get it yet.

    And looking at the empty seats at Bristol, many fans are voicing opinion with their feet. But NASCAR isn’t listening.

      1. Replace a date at Bristol? Are you smoking crack? Just because of the attendance? Bristol creates some amazing excitement so if your basing your opinion on attendance you would fit in perfectly with the current NASCAR leadership. More short tracks is obviously what the majority of fans and drivers want so taking one away to give to another short track isn’t a good option. Hell, I wouldn’t care if Talladega lost a race in place of a new short track.

    1. Make new rules as they go. And won’t listen to us fans. If they don’t nascar on sundays will be lost. Its sad.

  4. Great job reporting remote.
    Hopefully you didn’t wake Liliana yelling at TV during that great race.
    Bristol is still on my bucket list but family constraints prevent it currently.

  5. Agree, When you can’t sell enough tickets to fill half the seats at Bristol 😳😳😳
    My friend we all be in trouble !!
    I was shocked when TV allowed a clear view of the grandstands. Bristol only needs to sell tickets for the front stretch in August . No need to sell the back.
    The end result of today’s race (winner) (brand)
    Has a lot to do with the mind set of racing today

  6. I was at BMS this weekend. Like usual, we had a great overall experience. Reconnecting with RV neighbors, making new ones and oh ya, the race. Like many others I was dissapointed at the attendance and to that end with BMS management. We rode our bikes down to the track Friday to attend qualifing only to find out we had to purchase additional tickets ($10 per adult). Now $20 won’t break me but after already spending $850 for annual RV spot and $800 for 2 seasons tickets you would think they’d let us in for qualifing for FREE!

    1. No kidding man, we camp in the infield at MIS and a few years ago we finally got our dad to come down. We’ve seen races from every corner of MIS but on Friday he decided to take my mom on a tour through the merchandise area and around the track. They had to pay $15 each….each…. to watch practice in the grandstands. I thought to myself, there’s literally barely anyone in the stands and the attendance over the past 12 years is sad to see and your going to drain the actual few fans who show up at a track like this? Unreal

    2. I am also a season ticket holder. You should have had tickets included in your ticket packet. I did and have every year. If you didn’t get any and need them I rarely use my tickets for pole day and would be glad to just give them to you if you need them. I’d rather do that than see them wasted.

  7. Obtou guys ever watch baseball? I’ve been to an orioles game with like 15 people in the stands. Very common in baseball.

    1. no comparison….you’re talking 1 race vs. 81 baseball games, and for an event that used to draw 160,000 and now draws 40,000, that tells me that there is a BIG PROBLEM…

  8. Do you guys ever watch baseball? I’ve been to an orioles game with like 15 people in the stands. Very common in baseball.

    1. Actually the Orioles played a regular season game two seasons ago when there was no one in the stands… because of the previous day’s riots.

  9. Don’t watch zillionaires play a child’s game
    Throw the ball
    Hit the ball
    Catch the ball
    That’s about it !!👍

  10. If the fans put as much effort into filling the stands as they do complaining about it, every race would be a sell-out.

    1. Lol, 99% of NASCAR fans are in their 50s or 60s and living in the past. Half of them are likely in adult diapers and rolling an oxygen tank behind them from all the complaining they do.

  11. I don’t get why journalists are so tired of talking about attendance numbers if ratings have been up, it’s okay for fans to ask why that’s happening when in fact, ratings for Cup Series & Truck Series have been up at most races. It’s a shame and a crime only 38K showed up.

    I did what I could to buy tickets and support NASCAR, but I feel like their more expensive tickets are still the same price they were a couple years ago, yet the same big names aren’t there.

  12. Fox needs to give more info,didnt get complete story of 20 car and who was in it.Seems like every race it happens.

    1. Wait, what? You didn’t know who was in the 20 car? Your comment makes no sense. Seems like every race what happens?

  13. NASCAR race crowds are affected by a past history of track rain-outs, long delays, unlike any other sport except maybe baseball and their use of tarps.

    The whole architecture of the cars/trucks needs to be re-done so they can run in rain, like Indy.

    Yes–Massive mindset change that will help the sponsors get some TV time, no matter what?

  14. It’s hard to attract new fans when the cranky older ones are constantly complaining about everything and how much the sport sucks now.

    The world has changed, but the fan base has repeatedly refused to change with it. I know my friends don’t want to be associated with the sport and the stigmas attached to the fan base are a big reason why.

    When these “fans” stop harassing, intimidating, and outright bullying less-initiated viewers of the sport, THEN things will start to improve.

  15. Was this part of a dream? I copied this from your text Jeff.

    “Busch did exactly that, sending his brother’s No. 18 car spinning and crashing as the No. 1 car crossed the finish line. Bristol fans, weary of seeing Kyle win yet another race, responded by erupting in joy as Kurt circled the track with a Polish victory lap.
    It also may have sparked a rivalry at a time when NASCAR could use some bad blood.
    “I’ll get him back,” Kyle said on the track’s public address system as fans showered him with jeers. “I don’t care if it takes me all season and I don’t care what the penalty is. He’ll regret this day ever happened.””

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