NASCAR Race Weekend Central
It’s kind of weird to give a shoutout to the same guy who wound up this race’s villain, but you can’t really vote against Paul Menard here. Menard raced near the top of the pack all day long, leading early and finishing a respectable fifth, the best in the Richard Childress stable. Whether the success he’s had early this year will be long-term remains to be seen; Menard has shown flashes of brilliance before but not a lot of staying power in the long-term talent department. Still, other than tangling with one of NASCAR’s most respected veterans, he ran a great race at Bristol.

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It’s kind of weird to give the shoutout to the same guy who wound up this race’s villain, but you can’t really vote against Paul Menard here. Menard raced near the top of the pack all day long, leading early and finishing a respectable fifth, the best in the Richard Childress stable. Whether the success he’s had early this year will be long-term remains to be seen; Menard has shown flashes of brilliance before but not a lot of staying power in the long-term talent department. Still, other than tangling with one of NASCAR’s most respected veterans, he ran a great race at Bristol.

What… was THAT?

Last year, the chief complaint at Bristol was that the tire compound laid too much rubber on the track, making the racing surface too slick. So Goodyear made a change to the tire compound, bringing a more durable, grippier tire to the track. But it became rapidly clear on Friday that the new tire was a disaster. Instead of laying rubber in the track it virtually turned to powder, and tires were worn to the cords in a handful of laps. But, here’s where Goodyear gets some props. Instead of allowing a fiasco like Indy a few years back, the tire company went back to North Carolina, got tires made from the former compound for all 86 Cup and Nationwide teams, and mounted them in time for the respective races. While it did leave some teams scrambling to figure out the setups, kudos to Goodyear for doing the right thing for both safety and the fans’ enjoyment of the race.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

First it looked like a great day was brewing for Carl Edwards, then a worse day, then an OK day. In the end, Edwards had to settle for second to Kyle Busch. Edwards made an attempt to get by Busch with 23 or so to go, but in the end was so busy fending off Jimmie Johnson that neither could make a run for the win, allowing Busch to cruise to a disappointingly large margin of victory for Bristol.

When… will I be loved?

This race was relatively tame for Bristol, with only one attempt at payback, and a questionable one at that. After Bobby Labonte loosened up Menard to make a pass, Menard came back and spun Labonte around. Labonte simply kept in it, did a 360 and continued, but the incident makes Menard look like the villain: Labonte is a well-respected veteran and a multi-series champion. More importantly, he executed the bump-and-run perfectly, just loosening Menard enough to get by; in one camera angle it appeared that Labonte never even touched Menard’s car with his bumper. Payback should have been in kind.

Why… no driver intros on FOX?

That was puzzling. Bristol has the best driver introductions on the circuit, hands down. They let the drivers choose their own songs (or in one notable case, other drivers’ songs) and give them a microphone to boot. Yet FOX chose to show the talking heads in a dry rehashed conversation about what it takes to win at Bristol. I’ve heard it’s because FOX would have had to pay royalties to use the music but that doesn’t make sense. Does a news broadcast have to pay if they’re covering an event that happens to have music playing in the background? Because that’s what was happening here. Besides, what would have been more amusing: Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond discussing what 10 drivers, combined, would drive great at Bristol (but look really stupid) or Johnson getting introduced to “The Thong Song” courtesy of Brian Vickers?

How… come Dennis Setzer drove the No. 92 at Bristol?

You have to hand it to rookie Brian Keselowski this year. Keselowski has shown up every week to try and race his self-owned, severely underfunded team into the show. This week, Keselowski faced an obstacle that kept him out of the car altogether: gallstones. The driver had surgery to remove his gallbladder, leaving him no choice but to enter Setzer, who made the race and finished 38th.

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.