Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Bristol Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kyle Busch’s team got the No. 18 car off pit road first on the final stop and while Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson kept him honest at the end there was no catching Busch.

In a Nutshell: Sunday’s race (March 20) struck a nice balance between “traditional” Bristol (wreckin’) and “new” Bristol (racin’).

Dramatic Moment: While there was some good racing throughout the event, my nod goes to the first 15 laps after the 10th restart with some of the sport’s biggest stars all seemingly in contention for the win until Busch checked out.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

So maybe this is why NASCAR used to run mainly on the short tracks and not the superspeedways? Tear down Fontana and turn it into a moderately banked 0.75-mile tri-oval.

It sure did seem Johnson got away with moving awfully fast down pit road during that last sequence, didn’t it?

Sunday’s race length (just under three hours) was just about perfect. I feel that’s the target NASCAR should be shooting at most weekends. Now if we could just get FOX to present a race that started on time and didn’t basically serve as a “Tribute to DW.”

Man, what’s with Mark Martin running into the back of people this season? He used to race so clean.

Tires, tires and more tires. It doesn’t seem fair that teams should practice and qualify on one type of tire, then be forced to race that same weekend on a completely different sort with very limited practice to feel out the new rubber. On the other hand the “new” tires that were scrapped weren’t rubbering down the track. Instead they were being ground to dust bringing back memories of that debacle at the Brickyard a few years back.

In one of those “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situations, Goodyear at least tried to rush rubber to the track that would allow fans to see some decent racing. But with the tires run Sunday at Bristol originally slated for use at Fontana next weekend, will there be enough to go around (no pun intended) next week?

It’s a little worrisome when drivers including Johnson are saying that clean air up front makes all the difference… at a short track!

Yeah, I know it’s the fourth-biggest sports facility in the country and that many people didn’t attend every basketball tournament game held today combined but the crowd at Bristol looked pitiful to be kind. Mike Mulhern of Mikemulhern.net is reporting some area hotels were asking $385 a night. That’s sort of a deal killer for race fans right now.

See also
Dialing It In: Running on Empty - If NASCAR Attendance Falls, Blame the Gas Tank - Not the Fans

Jennifer Jo Cobb and the Nationwide Series team she was driving for, Second Chance Motorsports, spilt Saturday after a bizarre disagreement shortly before the race began. Cobb said she was told about 10 minutes before the race that she was to start-and-park the car. She refused to start the car and walked off with her crew chief and other crew members who were on her payroll, not the team’s.

While edgy, I think Cobb made the right call career-wise. It was a bit unusual to see a fully-prepared racecar sitting there ready to go but with no driver as a race began. Unsubstantiated rumors on Twitter claim some of the team members leaving the pits when Cobb decided to withdraw were threatened with a jack handle.

The Irish will have to live without Saint Patrick’s day for another year and ESPN will have to live without their Saint Danica Patrick, patron saint of Saturday ratings, until Chicagoland in June. Ms. Patrick exited the scene with yet another wrecked racecar and some angry gesturing towards another driver whom she felt was at fault. Frankly the replay was inconclusive and while Ryan Truex might have drifted down a few feet it surely appeared Patrick’s car had lost front end grip and she was moving up the track when the collision occurred.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Brad Keselowski had a miserable day, wrecking twice in the first 140 laps.

It was bad enough Tony Stewart had to run into a wreck not of his own making spoiling his day, but the car he ran into was one he also owned.

Clint Bowyer didn’t just lose an engine, he reduced it to bite size bits smaller than breakfast cereal.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

It was a pretty good weekend overall for Kyle Busch with victories both days and the announcement of an extension with his sponsor.

See also
Kyle Busch Sweeps Bristol Yet Again, Wins 2011 Jeff Byrd 500

Bobby Labonte had a strong run going until Paul Menard spun him. Labonte kept the car off the wall and rallied back to a 13th-place finish.

Edwards looked great in Friday qualifying and at the start of the race but at the midpoint his car was badly off song. He returned strong in the closing segments to finish second.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got nabbed speeding on pit road (maybe he was trying to keep up with Johnson?) and lost a lap. He managed to get it back and drove on to an 11th-place finish, narrowly missing a third straight top-10 finish. He had to miss the lap 28 wreck just to finish the race.

Kevin Harvick got plowed into from the rear during the eighth caution period and his car suffered extensive damage. He was able to rally back to a sixth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Sunday’s win was Kyle Busch’s fifth consecutive Bristol victory in NASCAR’s top-three touring series dating back to last August’s truck, Nationwide and Cup events and both this weekend’s races.
  • Kurt Busch remains the only driver with a top-10 finish in all four of this season’s events and thus naturally he is leading the points.
  • Edwards has finished first or second in three of this season’s four Cup races. He led at Phoenix as well but had a little help finishing 28th from his dear friend Mr. Busch.
  • Matt Kenseth (fourth) scored his best finish of the season and his first top 10 of 2011.
  • Menard (fifth) is off to a great start this season with an 11th-place average over the first four races, the best average of any of the four RCR drivers.
  • Greg Biffle’s eighth-place finish was easily his best of the year. Previously his best finish was 20th at Phoenix.
  • Ryan Newman (10th) has three consecutive top-10 finishes and has led laps in three of those events.
  • Bowyer’s luck has seemed to be in the crapper since the win at New Hampshire and the subsequent penalty to start off last year’s Chase. He finished 35th on Sunday and has yet to score a top-10 result.
  • The top-10 finishers at Bristol drove two Toyotas, three Fords, four Chevys and a lone Dodge (Kurt Busch in seventh).
  • Other notable drivers without a top-10 finish to their name this season include; Jeff Burton, David Reutimann and Joey Logano.

What’s the Points?

Kurt Busch remains atop the points standings. Edwards rose a spot to second and trails Busch by a mere point.

Teammates Newman and Stewart are tied for third, twelve points out of the lead. Menard rounds out the top five, two points behind Stewart and Newman.

Kyle Busch’s win propels him forward eight spots to sixth while Johnson rose five spots after Bristol to seventh.

Hamlin’s tough day dropped him nine spots to 17th.

While it is insanely early to be worried about points at the top, some name teams have got to sweating a little this week. After California next week any team not in the Top 35 in owner points will have to qualify with the go or go-home outfits at the end of qualifying sessions. Given an early exit at Fontana and unexpectedly good luck by some smaller outfits, they may find themselves in an embarrassing predicament. Teams that should be sweating it include the Nos. 31, 7, 20 and 83.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one four and a half cans. With side-by-side racing, passes for the lead and an outcome that was uncertain up until the last 15 laps it was a good ‘un.

Next Up: Insomniacs rejoice! The Cup series heads back to Fontana, a less than compelling track but according to the track’s GM, a premiere shopping destination. You ought to be well rested next Monday morning.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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