Odds and Ends Around the Track: Richmond Raceway Spring
Usually, I am part of the “Stop Looking at the Empty Seats” group, but last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway should be used as the evidence on how bad things have gotten. Despite closing down the corner grandstands, the empty seats on both the backstretch and frontstretch were too painful not to notice.
There used to be a waiting list at BMS, and now, the fans could have changed seats frequently and never run out of options. What happened to NASCAR’s most popular track?
Old Bristol Fans
Turn back the clock a few years and Bristol Motor Speedway was running a funny commercial about fighting over the season tickets in a divorce. I actually knew a friend who made this part of her divorce strategy long before the commercial was aired. As a former season ticket holder, I can tell you that at one time the requests for my extra tickets became tough to deal with — every year picking the friends I liked most to buy those tickets.
But several things have led to this now being the easiest ticket to get. First, the track changed configurations. While this has given NASCAR fans much better racing, it is not the type of racing that grew Bristol from 25,000 to over 160,000 seats.
Fans showed up at Bristol not to see great racing but to see a spectacle. “The Last Great Coliseum” promised to give you some temper-flaring excitement to remember almost each and every race. The second reason for the lack of beating and banging are the cars themselves. Turn back the clock to before the “Car of Tomorrow” and teams opened up the wheel wells to allow for the inevitable contact. Now, the least amount of contact on the side of the car can cause a major tire issue and cost a driver several laps at the least.
The last reason is the driver’s racing mentality. Winning at Bristol used to be a big deal. After Daytona International Speedway, this might have been the one place, especially during the night race, that drivers wanted to add to their resume. Now, it’s just another race on the schedule.
There is no doubt the racing is better at the new Bristol than the old Bristol. I could quote all kinds of statistics, but the “eye test” tells you that better than stats. But when you go from having a waiting list to closing down two major grandstands for the spring race, you have to admit you have a problem. Old Bristol fans have voted with their lack of ticket sales that they didn’t want to see better racing — they showed up to see a show.
If NASCAR Put Me in Charge
NASCAR grew from a regional sport to an international, billion-dollar business without my help. But right now, NASCAR seems to have a problem with understanding what the old fans want to see when it comes to racing.
I love all types of racing. I am also a science geek who loves technology in racing. IndyCar, Formula 1 and NHRA Drag Racing used to be low-tech when I followed them for the first time back in the late 1960s. I have marveled at the technology advances in those forms of racing.
But technology is not what attracted me to NASCAR. NASCAR racing stayed old school for many years while IndyCar and F1 were evolving with technology that rivaled that found in NASA Moon Landings. The charm of NASCAR was that technology changed slower than every other form of racing, keeping the concentration on the drivers’ ability to wheel these vehicles that had no business being on a race track.
Bill France Jr. kept the sport old school in many ways but with his passing, the third generation of France’s soared into the new age. Instead of the specially-built vehicles that still resembled the street version of our favorite two-door sedans, we now have “Formula One with fenders.”
While some changes made sense to keep the manufacturers paying the bills happy, many of the other changes took us farther and farther away from the roots of the sport. If NASCAR put me in charge, I would make a few changes, and incidentally, they would save teams money. Get rid of the front splitter and go back to a front valence. Spinning across the grass should not demolish the front end of a stock car.
Get rid of the side skirts to dirty up the aero even more. Finally, allow teams to open up the wheel wells at tracks of one mile in length or less. This would allow drivers to lean on each other more, just like the old days of NASCAR glory, without worrying about taking out a tire. Major changes are needed anyway so why can’t we just test out a dirtier aero package at the All-Star Race again?
Richmond Raceway: Fantasy Insight
Flashback to Last Week’s Picks
Win: Kevin Harvick-Fought back from a pre-race penalty for 13th place
Place: Kyle Busch– WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER
Show: Kurt Busch-Finished second
Long Shot: Jimmie Johnson-(25-to-1 Odds) Finished 10th
Richmond Raceway is one of the best tracks on the NASCAR circuit because it is part short track and part speedway. It’s also very hard for the leader to get away and stay away with a big lead because the inevitable lapped traffic will slow him down. It should come as no surprise that Kyle Busch has to be considered one of the favorites again this week. He is on an unprecedented roll to start the season. But one other driver beats him out by a few tenths of a point in the ratings at Richmond. Denny Hamlin leads the way with 189.8 points out of a possible 200 at his home track. Kyle Busch is second, with Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski all topping 180 points this week, which indicates we should be in for quite a show.
Win: Joey Logano-His Ford should be tough to beat this weekend.
Place: Denny Hamlin-Tops the rating chart so he has to make this list
Show: Kyle Busch-Nobody has ever been more consistent to start a NASCAR season.
Long Shot: Kurt Busch-(25-to-1 Odds) A huge overlay this weekend