Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…
1. Again…MORE SHORT TRACKS!
The next time someone asks me what I like about NASCAR, I’m just going to point to this year’s racing at Bristol.
NASCAR was at its best on Saturday night. There were great battles for the lead all night, fantastic moves throughout the field, unpredictable outcomes, high emotions and almost too much to keep track of at times.
It was fun! Three hours of pure entertainment that never got boring and had intriguing subplots from the opening laps.
Is it being greedy to ask for more?
“Bristol is an awesome place,” Kyle Larson said afterward. “If we could race here every Saturday and Sunday, our grandstands would be packed, our TV ratings would be very high. Let’s build more Bristols.”
Amen! For all the talk of what ails NASCAR and how it could be better, the issue so often comes down to the tracks themselves. And it continues to feel like more short tracks could solve a lot of NASCAR’s problems.
Yet the reality of adding more short tracks seems so unlikely at the moment. Instead, NASCAR is locked into this intermediate track racing and now has seemingly come up with a solution to slow down the cars in order to put on a better show next season.
If only someone in power could slam their fist down on the table and say, “NO! Enough. That’s not what we need. The real solution is to shake up the schedule and start going to more short tracks.”
No, it wouldn’t change things overnight, but 20 short track races per season sure would do a lot for the health of the sport.
The problem is it’ll never happen. It’s a pipe dream at this point. So we just have to somehow accept there’s only two more short track races for the rest of the year.
Sigh. At least we had Saturday night.
2. Kurt makes case for No. 4
Any race winner who isn’t part of the Big Three at this point is going to spend a week being the focus of the “Are they the fourth driver?” storyline.
It just happened with Chase Elliott after Watkins Glen. Now it’s Kurt Busch’s turn. Kurt, c’mon down! You’re the next driver to get the spotlight as No. 4!
But “Who is the fourth?” is a valid question because it seems so up in the air, doesn’t it? I have no idea who would be the last driver at Homestead if all of the Big Three were to advance.
Elliott? Busch? Clint Bowyer? Denny Hamlin? Larson? Those seem to be the top candidates, but that’s a lot of drivers for one spot.
Seriously though, it might very well be Busch. He has playoff experience, is still at the top of his game and Stewart-Haas Racing continues to show it’s consistently the best team at this point in the season.
But there’s also a chance by the time you read this column in a couple weeks, we could all be focused on someone else.
3. Common sense, please
I totally get that people were angry with Kyle Busch for wrecking Martin Truex Jr. while going for second place in the final stage.
But to say he did it on purpose? C’mon, guys.
There would be absolutely no logic or reason for Busch to suddenly wreck Truex, his pseudo-teammate (Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row share information and debrief together) and fellow title contender (how dumb would it be to start a feud at this point in the season?).
It wasn’t a battle for the lead and it wasn’t a bump-and-run situation, because there were still plenty of laps to go. Busch just screwed up. I would bet almost any amount of money he didn’t do it on purpose.
He said as much after the race, though surely not everyone will take his word for it.
“I crashed the 78, so that was my bad, totally,” he said. “Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner. Knowing there were still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.
“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”
Busch and Truex crew chief Cole Pearn have a good relationship as well, so again — while the 78 team might be mad in an emotionally charged moment, they surely know it was unintentional.
“Maybe I’ll send them a sorry cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra,” Busch said. “They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyway, but it ruined their day from being able to get a win or even a second.”
4. You’re ruining it for everyone, you idiot
After the race, Kyle Busch walked out of the infield tunnel and up the ramp to where drivers get in their golf carts. Fans typically line the chest-high fence there for autographs, and Busch actually stopped to sign a few despite his sour mood.
As he got in his golf cart, though, a fan went after Busch. According to several eyewitnesses, the fan gave Busch some not-so-friendly pats on the arm before reaching into the golf cart and making much harder contact. That brought Busch out of the cart to defend himself, and the two men were chest to chest as public relations woman Penny Copen stepped in between them. Police then arrived to detain the fan.
As if it wasn’t obvious, that is a totally unacceptable situation. No fan should ever, EVER confront a driver after the race. Between this and the guy who accosted Denny Hamlin on pit road at Martinsville last year, everyone is walking a fine line. It’s not going to take much for fans to completely lose access to the drivers, which is something that has made NASCAR great over the years.
Busch, no matter how much you may dislike him, shouldn’t need to be fearing for his safety when he’s leaving a racetrack. This is ENTERTAINMENT, after all. The drivers are putting on a show. It’s not some political demonstration where two sides clash in the streets.
Don’t make NASCAR bring in riot police to get drivers out of the track. If you see this start to happen at a track, don’t be afraid to alert security. You’re not snitching, you’re saving your fellow fans from losing valuable access to the stars of the sport.
5. Playoff picture
This is turning into such a weird season. Not only have three drivers dominated at the top, but there’s virtually zero points drama at the bottom when it comes to the playoff bubble.
I can’t remember if there’s been a cutoff race where it was only win-and-in, but this year’s Brickyard 400 is shaping up to be that way.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. missed a chance to capitalize on his best track, pitting under green twice with problems Saturday to finish five laps down while Alex Bowman snagged a top-10.
That leaves Stenhouse a whopping 79 points behind Bowman for the final spot with two races left.
Even if someone else wins Darlington or Indy — like a Daniel Suarez or Ryan Newman — there still won’t be much playoff drama with the points. That’s because Bowman is 32 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the 15th playoff spot, which is where the line would move to.
This storyline is not a huge deal — since whoever is the last person in the playoffs isn’t going to beat the Big Three anyway — but it’s kind of odd to see the standings look this way.