The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol night race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…


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.

27 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol night race”

  1. > 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.

    Even it were a political demonstration, touching someone without their consent is never a great option. If it isn’t someone you know, and they haven’t said you can touch them — don’t. It’s really that simple. We learnt this – or should have – in kindergarten.

    It isn’t that difficult to not be a jerk.

  2. On your takes –

    1 – NO to more short tracks. Bristol was spirited and competitive but also showed why short tracks are not better competition venues – the leader broke away from the field and the others ran him down because lapped cars hung up the leader, it wasn’t because they were that much more competitive. The sport is about the best competition venues and the objective reality remains – superspeedways average twice the lead changes per race that short tracks can deliver.

    Matt Weaver mouthed off about “we should talk about adding more short tracks than about restrictor plates.” Uh, Bristol needs restrictor plates just the same as the bigger tracks – the cars have way too much horsepower by any objective measure, and people obviously have forgotten the crashes are often harder on short tracks (most notably Bobby Hamilton and Jerry Nadeau’s near-fatal Richmond crashes) than on the bigger ovals.

    Adding more short tracks devalues the sport, it’s that simple – weaker markets, an inferior product, and no cost reduction (Steve Hmiel in a TV interview some years back shot down that line of thinking). Bristol was good, Daytona, the All-Star Race, and even Phoenix were better. Bigger tracks are better tracks.

    2 – There’s no fourth driver this year.

    3 – “It was accidental” has to end. People need to come out and say, “He took him out deliberately.” Stop making excuses for the likes of Kyle Busch.

    4 – How about telling Kyle Busch to change instead of lecturing an angry fan? Maybe Kyle Busch should figure out he’s a thug and change accordingly, not because some angry fan says so, but because objectively it’s the truth.

    5 – Playoffs don’t mean a damned thing.

    1. “NO to more short tracks. Bristol was spirited and competitive but also showed why short tracks are not better competition venues”.

      I didn’t know creatures like this existed.

    2. Busch showed once again how he thinks he is the only driver who matters on the track. I think it’s funny that he went to Bristol to run 2 races thinking nobody could beat him in either one. And he got taken down a notch or two. He needs this quite often which should tell you about the size of his ego.

      And when I saw how his crew chief Adam Stevens (aka Homer Simpson) reacted to Busch’s last crash of the weekend, I knew then those two make a good pair. They are exactly alike.

    3. This response is so stupid. Give me a break. If you can’t see that the guy was totally in the wrong with touching Busch there is no hope for you. You should stop watching Nascar now.

    4. Look, I know you’re trolling, I get it, but I have to respond anyway.

      “Adding more short tracks devalues the sport” versus keeping the ridiculous amount of 1.5 mile tracks that produce bad racing, low satisfaction, and low ratings? Sure…

      Short tracks are the best of the best. They always have been. Every driver in the field has to work around lap traffic, not just the leader. There were great battles at every moment during last night’s race, throughout the field. Doesn’t get much better than that.

      I do agree with you that Phoenix was a great race, because Phoenix produces similar racing to that of a short track.

    5. The fact that that you said restrictor plates on a short track discredits your already stupid comments

  3. “There would be absolutely no logic or reason for Busch to suddenly wreck Truex”

    Gluck acting like Ky Busch is Alain “The Professor” Prost out there, making rational and logical decisions 24/7. Has Ky Busch ever driven like he takes into consideration consequences of his actions (see Nov 2011 Texas truck race)

    Busch decided he wasn’t going to give that inch to the 78 in that situation, which is his prerogative. But that was an intentional decision to not lift to avoid contact. Did he set out to flat-out wreck the 78? On that, I agree, no. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an “intent” to busch’s actions and that it was just a “misjudgment”

  4. 1) I agree
    2) Chase Elliott
    3) I’m with you on this one Jeff
    4) He (the fan) should be charged with ‘Simple Battery’ and banned for life by NASCAR. (They supposedly did it to fans for throwing cans at Jeff Gordon’s car after tying Dale Sr. in wins.)
    5) There might no be much of a playoff story line but I have a feeling the Brickyard might just be the most intriguing race of the year.

  5. Memo to Kyle Larson- the stands weren’t packed last night, unless half full is the new full.

  6. I absolutely agree that we should have more short tracks, but I also can’t help but wonder how fortunate this race was to have the 18 run into trouble on the 2nd lap. Otherwise we may very well be complaining about how terrible a race it was with Kyle having led 380 of the 500 laps.

  7. Sad to see Bristol with so many empty seats. It’s a long way from it being the hardest ticket to get in sports. I agree that the lapped traffic kept the race interesting, but racing in multiple grooves can be done on most of the tracks Nascar runs…not always exciting. Bristol used to be unique for the type of racing it produced. Now it’s just like any multiple groove track. While it’s miles better than the cookie cutters, it still isn’t the OLD Bristol.

  8. It was a great race. With emphasis on race. The old bump and run Bristol was more wrecking than racing and never appealed much to me. Why were the stands half empty? Because Bristol built too many seats for all the fans who were really just interested in wrecking and fighting. Just like the WWF craze in the 80’s those new fans eventually lost interest and found other things to do. Yes, let’s have more short track racing and fewer gimmicks like restrictor plates. Let’s build racetracks not Roman coliseums. Let’s have some diversity in the kind of tracks we go to with less concern about seating capacity or ‘markets’. Finally, let’s celebrate good racing and worry less about entertainment and the number of passes for the lead.

  9. Kyle Busch is not nearly as aggressive on the track as the number 3 was in his day. He would intentionally wreck someone and after the race he would call it “just one of them racing deals”. Kyle is aggressive because he wants to be the best, period. I notice most of the drivers who win are more aggressive than the others. Being the nicest guy does not get you to the pay window very often. Kyle entertains me with his racing, not his socially impaired personality.

  10. The crowd cheering incessantly once the #18 wrecked, pretty much says it all… it’s ok to have the ego deflated, much needed, however it added fuel to the flame as KB came flying back from 2 laps down… yes entertainment?
    Next year he should stay out of xfinity all together, just IMO.

  11. Re: #1 – Since we can’t practically have more short tracks, how about this change: a 500-lap race is 500 GREEN FLAG laps. Field is frozen when the yellow flag comes out; they re-start in the same position, regardless of whether they pitted or not. Eliminates a driver gaining track position just because he has a quicker pit crew. Adds a new wrinkle to tire and gas strategy, may also reduce ‘gas mileage’ wins (which I hate).

  12. As a fan of both I’m not making a big deal over Kyle getting into Martin. Why? If that war wasn’t lit last year at Indy when the 78 caused that wreck I highly doubt last night will start it.

    And what jumped out at me was the reaction to Kurt when he climbed out. There really wasn’t any boos just cheers. He’s come a long way.

  13. I agree with more short tracks.
    I am fearful that some crazy hot head fan is going to blow it for everyone with confronting drivers. I do believe it is time for NASCAR to take a long look at safety for drivers and their families.

  14. I agree!! Fans should NEVER be confrontational towards drivers! No matter what happened… on or off the track. We CANNOT have a few of these people lose the access for the rest of us RESPECTABLE fans. It is a privilege to have the access we do! You don’t have that in other sports.

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