The Frontstretch: "Brisdull?!" The New Thunder Valley Roars Under the Lights by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday August 24, 2009

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"Brisdull?!" The New Thunder Valley Roars Under the Lights

Bryan Davis Keith · Monday August 24, 2009


Rewind back to 2007, and the first night race at the “new” Bristol. I wasn’t even on staff at Frontstretch at the time, but I distinctly remember reading Jeff Meyer’s column on the split that existed everywhere, between the fans, the media, and even apparently Bristol track personnel, as to whether or not the progressive banking and three-wide racing in place of a one-groove wreckfest was a good or a bad thing.

On one side, we’ve got a bunch of fans, Meyer and fellow FS writer Mike Neff, who have continually praised the new Bristol for actually living up to its moniker “Racin’ the way it oughta’ be.” On the other side, there’s been a plethora of fans who’ve given up their coveted night race tickets, dubbing the new track “Brisdull.”

Here’s hoping this past weekend will shut up anyone out there foolish enough to have ever called Thunder Valley “Brisdull.”

The Coliseum of NASCAR was packed. There was beating. There was banging. There was carnage. And when the cars out there weren’t wrecking, they were racing two and three-wide all night long, Friday and Saturday night.

For those fans that don’t care for side by side racing at Bristol, but love the contact and crashes; Saturday night’s race still provided the sparks they are looking for.

It was the Bristol night race weekend, and it was awesome.

Friday night’s Nationwide race packed a destructive punch from the drop of the green flag. Be it Chase Austin’s losing control and taking out Kyle Busch and Reed Sorenson, Kevin Harvick spinning Trevor Bayne and taking Danny O’Quinn with him or Peyton Sellers’ hard front-side impact, plenty of sheet metal was bent up by race’s end. And while the Austin wreck may have been the highlight of the evening, as Kyle Busch’s wreck brought 100,000 cheers from the grandstands, there was a lot more to the Food City 250 than the wrecks. The racing was short-tracking at its finest.

Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier staged a furious battle for the lead in the early stages of the race. Kyle Busch made things very exciting in all but trading paint with Kevin Harvick for the race lead prior to his wreck. And though David Ragan led the last 55 laps en route to Victory Lane, Carl Edwards kept him in striking distance for the majority of the race’s conclusion. More telling was the racing through the rest of the field. Unlike the days where Bristol races amounted to a parade of drivers protecting the bottom, now it was possible for drivers to move forward. Just ask Paul Menard, who somehow finished ninth after starting dead last. Or David Reutimann, who made up 30 spots en route to finishing 11th. Or even Matt Carter of all drivers, who rebounded from a spin under green to finish 12th, on the lead lap.

A Bristol race with an abundance of passing and carnage? Pinch me.

What’s more, even with the Race to the Chase rendering even some of the world’s most aggressive drivers (see Juan Pablo Montoya) slaves to points racing the last few weeks, Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol was more of the same great stuff fans saw on Friday. Drivers may have been points racing, but it didn’t show…just look at many of the Chase contenders:

Kyle Busch and Mark Martin dueled inches from each other for the win over the race’s final 30 laps or so. While there was no contact between the two, there was also no inch given, none taken, between two drivers decidedly on the Chase bubble. The lack of contact was not the product of playing safe, but of, as Busch put it in Victory Lane, Mark Martin “being a class act” and not forcing the issue. For the record, Busch also drove Martin commendably clean, but very hard in scoring his fourth win of the year.

Denny Hamlin started 41st, and drove like a man possessed all night, much like he did at Pocono a few weeks back. Finishing fifth after starting that far back on a short-track doesn’t come without aggression.

Clint Bowyer ended up with a mangled mess of a No. 33 car at the end of the night, but one can’t fault him for lack of effort. Bowyer was continually in the middle of every battle he could get into Saturday night, coming back from a plethora of contact time and time again before settling for 21st.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s team’s safe approach went out the window when they were running in the top 10 late in the going; instead of pitting for a potential tire problem under a caution, the No. 42 car stayed out to try and contend for the top 5, if not a win…and ended up paying the consequence with a flat tire and a green flag pit stop that left JPM 25th in the final running order.

And with all of this drama going on around the guys trying to get into the top 12, there were plenty of drivers outside that fold making noise as well. Just look at the run that Marcos Ambrose had. The No. 47 was one of the fastest cars in the field, and thanks to the track now having passing lanes, Ambrose was able to show that hand, picking off big-time names like Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards en route to his best career-finish on an oval. The same can be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who officially moved from 27th to ninth by race’s end, but seemed to pass as many cars as anyone in the field on Saturday night.

Yes, there were plenty of wrecks Saturday as well…just ask Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, David Gilliland, and any of the other drivers out there whose cars resembled those of a demolition derby’s by night’s end.

The point of all this summarizing? The new Bristol put on one hell of a show, one that could not come at a better time for NASCAR. After dealing with two straight rain-outs and perhaps the most fuel-conscious fuel mileage race ever ran at Michigan, the Bristol night race returned to form as one of the crown jewel events on the Sprint Cup slate. The improved racing that many Bristol fans have praised was present for 500 laps, while the wreckage, intensity and sheer unpredictability yearned for by those who relish the days of 20 caution flags (like we saw in 2003) was back at the forefront as well.

This race didn’t feel like the Race to the Chase…it felt like Saturday night short-tracking under the lights.

Almost makes me forget that Kyle Busch won.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Bryan Davis Keith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bad Wolf
08/24/2009 01:28 AM

You can bang the drum, high step and twirl your baton as you lead the Nascar spin control parade but the damage has already been done. Up untill the roll out of the COT and the new surface Saturday night at Bristol was the highlight of the racing year. It was one big racing party with plenty of freinds and bigger than any Superbowl party.

After the “race” in 2007 we all looked at each other and said “What the hell was that”. The magic was over and Toto had pulled back the curtain to reveal that King Brian had no cloths.
The party is over and we all have other things to do now. The talk now is to have the big race party for the weekend of the Busch race at Iowa Speedway next year. So the last 30 laps were great Saturday night. I remember when 500 laps were great and drivers had to work their tails off for each position. Now it’s just a mini-me version of the 1.5 milers.

I’m sure there will be some acceptable races at Bristol in the future, but the glory days are past.

M.B. Voelker
08/24/2009 06:52 AM

As I said back in the spring, anyone who didn’t like the racing at Bristol simply doesn’t like stock car racing.

ESPN did a lousy job of presenting the race, but the drivers did their part to make it a great weekend of great racing.

08/24/2009 10:52 AM

I thought the Truck race was good and the Nationwide race was excellent. Then they rolled out that POS COT and it was all over. I don’t care what kind of changes Mike Helton won’t make to this slug, that dog will never hunt. No grip, won’t roll through the corners, and the suspension of an old lumber wagon. And it never looks fast. I had to check lap times to believe they were actually running that fast. You have to give the drivers credit though. Even trying to run side by side in that crate takes large ones.

08/24/2009 11:15 AM

I have mused on the writings of many reporters this week..and came to the conclusion it’s their’s their bread and’s their pride..IT being NASCAR..and keeping it ramped up and putting excitement into a race where there just isnt any. If it weren’t for the many internet and TV and newspaper and radio reporters..NASCAR would be in worse shape fanwise then they were before all the “modern” conveniences. I watched the race Saturday I do all the races..and it was for the most part..boring. We had the usual “whoever is out front stays there” and the “many many lapped cars” and the “I will ride in this position for points” and the “hard racing here and there in the back of the pack which ESPN failed to show often enough” and we had the final 20 lap sprint to the finish..which was the only exciting part of the race. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore which race you are watching..the scenario is the same. If I didn’t know what track the race was at..I wouldn’t know what track the race was at!! I don’t know the answer..but NASCAR better come up with something or they are going to lose fans faster then the government can print money.

08/24/2009 12:25 PM

You have to realize the track is engineered to have the side by side racing, and that a lesser car can hug the steeper banking on the top groove and hang with a faster car running the less banked lower line. This so-called “exciting” racing is staged and is shameful. Not only that, side by side is cookie cutter racing, not Brisdull.
If you like the side by side racing, why did you ever come to Bristol in the first place?
Bring back the old track!

08/24/2009 12:34 PM

Am I the only person writing in that can’t believe this was called a sellout. I was amazed at all the empty seats. Fans are getting wise to what nas$car has done to the cup series the last few years and are showing it by not watching and attending.

08/24/2009 01:08 PM

Sure, there was side-by-side racing, and there were some wrecks, but this was missing the key ingredient of a Bristol race: emotion. The only driver who seemed to show any when interviewed was Clint Bowyer (who should get more screen-time; he’s a talented driver who shows more emotion than most but is never disrespectful about it).

Absent from this Bristol is the frustration and desperation that we love to see. There were wrecks, but no tempers. There’s something wrong with a race when Harvick gets taken out and he’s practically beaming in the post-wreck interview.

08/24/2009 05:02 PM

MMMM, this week, this day, I don’t have to write a single thing about the POS! Seems many others have the same opinion!


Oh, yes, another “NA$CRAP” sell out!


(remember, to get a “sell-out”, these tracks “buy” the unsold tickets themselves, for a PENNY a piece, YES! A PENNY, because they can then claim they “actually sold” all the tickets, then if a regular customer wants some, they just turn the penny tickets back and sell them at full price).



08/24/2009 05:19 PM

It’s amazing to me that people consider the NASCAR events at Bristol before 2007 to be racing. It was a damned train. The only passing involved contact or a mistake on someone’s part. If that’s the racing you miss and bitch about, bye. Get out and stay.

08/24/2009 06:52 PM

I was there all week and thought the racing was pretty good,yes I have seen better Bristol Races but I’ve also seen much worse. When the drivers can run 2 and 3 wide around a 1/2 mile track without wrecking that is exciting. I do not go to watch 150 + laps of caution because the only way to pass is hit the man in front of you.

08/24/2009 09:57 PM

Quoting Paul “It’s amazing to me that people consider the NASCAR events at Bristol before 2007 to be racing. It was a damned train. The only passing involved contact or a mistake on someone’s part. If that’s the racing you miss and bitch about, bye. Get out and stay.”
What you and the other side by side fans don’t realize is that the old configuration is what made the track world famous.
If you didn’t like that type of racing, why did you (and record numbers)watch?

08/24/2009 10:40 PM

Because I watch every race, silly.

08/24/2009 10:45 PM

Sell Out, all seats are sold. About 1/4 of which is bought by NASCAR, so they can claim a sellout, and keep ticket prices high. Supply and Demand.

Why do they have to do this.
Two reasons—
1. The fad crowd who came to NASCAR in the late 1990s and early 2000s are gone on to whatever else is popular now. In other words they don’t like NASCAR any more. These people were mainly suburan and middle class and upward, who had unlimited resources to buy a lot of other tshirts and brick-a-brack.
2. Brian France, the great prostitute of Babylon, pandered to this crowd, and built racetracks in their cities, and in their television markets, all the while alienating those who loved NASCAR for the racing, not for the thrill of getting to meet Jeff Gordon or Matt KKenseth, or whoever at a $200.00 a plate breakfast in a tent on the infield the morning of the race. So the fad crowd is gone, and the core group is falling away, what is left?
Those of us who refuse to give up, and those who drink the proverbial Kool-Aid, and think the racing is great (they really just don’t know any better).

I will say one thing, I like the way Mark Martin made the bottom of the track work for him, kind of like the days of old.

08/24/2009 10:50 PM

Oh, and by the way, MB, Paul, what is your favorite flavor, the Strawberry California, or the Coconut Chicago?

08/28/2009 11:55 PM

Better or worse, one thing for sure is that it’s not the Bristol racing that made the track famous. If you like the new brand of racing then good for you, but for me the graduated banking and wider track creates a dull show.