Bristol Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s most iconic racetracks. There are countless memories in Thunder Valley that have helped make NASCAR what it is today.
2021 was no different. This past weekend (Sept. 16-18), all three events had as much action and drama as you could have wanted in a NASCAR event. The competition was edge-of-your-seat, thrilling to the point it brought up the discussion of whether or not Bristol could host championship weekend.
Should the night race, one of the sport’s crown jewels, be moved to the season finale? Clayton Caldwell and Brad Harrison debate whether or not Bristol should be the next track to host the Championship 4 for all three series.
No, Bristol should not host the championship race
Memory is apparently in short supply among race fans this week.
Take most Bristol races in the past decade or so and the reaction was not too hard to find.
“Where’s the beating and banging?”
First and foremost, NASCAR, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Bristol Motor Speedway should receive a laurel and a hearty handshake for getting the perfect mix between both the aero package and track surface this past weekend. The end result was the best competition we have seen at BMS in quite sometime. Was the racing great? Yes. Did it feel just like the late 1990s and early 2000s again? Absolutely.
As exciting as it was, that’s no reason to make a quick knee-jerk reaction to move the championship race to Bristol. Would many of the fans doing so this week have clamored for this change last year or the year before? Probably not. A track should host a championship race based on its overall body of work, not one small sample size of one race weekend by itself.
The timing of Bristol to close out the first round of the playoffs is well-timed, because if you weren’t paying much attention to NASCAR, you certainly will be going into the next few weeks. Races like Bristol, and later on in the postseason with Martinsville Speedway, amount to an appetizer to pique your interest. Then, the main attraction arrives: tracks that showcase a driver’s overall ability rather than being able to simply survive being banged around on a tight-quartered bullring.
In addition, if you’re a major sport, it’s beyond critical to make your event a destination location, one that’s easy for fans and guests of teams and sponsors to get to. There’s a reason why Jacksonville, Fla., despite having great weather, has only hosted one Super Bowl.
Knoxville and Gatlinburg, Tenn. are very nice places to vacation. But when they, along with Asheville, N.C. are among the closest major cities with large volumes of hotels to Bristol, getting large numbers of corporate sponsors to commit becomes difficult. A much longer drive compared to Homestead-Miami Speedway or Phoenix Raceway doesn’t help in the big picture of hosting a championship-level event.
Running that type of race at Bristol is about as feasible as a Cup event at former legendary tracks in Rockingham or North Wilkesboro. Sure, the grassroots fans would love watching it, but how many of them would actually put their money where their mouth is and buy tickets?
Short track races are great. But much like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, they should help shape the race for a championship, not define it. Tracks like the old Atlanta Motor Speedway, Phoenix and Homestead set up a scenario where a driver has to get up on the wheel to charge through the field and pass cars. They don’t rely on either pack racing or being lucky enough to avoid a wreck.
That’s exactly how a championship should be decided. It’s why Bristol should help cut down who gets to make the final but not become the end all, be all in early November. – Brad Harrison
Bristol would add another element to championship race
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s most legendary short tracks. The place has grown from its early days to an iconic 150,000-seat venue. While the daytime event has switched to a dirt race, the Bristol Night Race is still a signature event, and moving it to NASCAR’s championship race would be an awesome decision that only adds to its aura.
NASCAR is America’s number one motorsport for a reason. We as Americans love the action NASCAR provides, and that action is particularly great at track types like Bristol. Just think of the classic moments we’ve had at this bullring over the years. Even this past week, we saw drivers showing their emotions in all three series, each of them providing a nail-biter finish. That raw emotion is what built this sport and spilled over even after the checkered flag flew.
Clearly, short track racing is still the most important part of the NASCAR schedule. Adding that drama to championship weekend would be an amazing and fun twist to the playoffs.
Plus, think of the energy Bristol produces. Remember the capacity I talked about earlier? 150,000 fans. There’s a reason the seating capacity got so high through the years. It’s because those races always put on excitement, and adding a championship element to that would be huge.
“This is by far my favorite track,” Saturday’s winner Kyle Larson said as the fans made all sorts of noise. “This is why. You guys are amazing, loud. We feel the energy while we’re out there racing.”
Bristol also showcases the best part of short track competition: reducing the aerodynamic element of the sport and bringing back mechanical grip. At this track, good handling is a must and helps incorporate an old school style of racing. The whole team has to be involved and at their best to win: driver, crew chief and the pit crew itself. The driver has to not only be talented enough to drive the car to the front, but they also must understand how their car is reacting over the course of the night. Relaying that information to their crew chief correctly, allowing him to make the car better has always been a major element of how to win. Pit crews executing on an above-average number of stops, maintaining track position after every caution flag is also crucial.
Sure, Phoenix Raceway has some elements described here, but it’s not the same as Bristol and certainly not as extreme. It would really add a fun twist to the championship race.
With the new car coming in 2022, the playing field should also be more even here among all 40 cars on the grid. Going to Bristol already takes away a lot of the engineering advantage in race cars and creates an even more level playing field. It helps make the Championship 4 a much more fair and entertaining event.
Another benefit is reducing the travel NASCAR teams have to do to get to the championship out in Phoenix. The majority of Cup Series teams are based in North Carolina, which is a short drive to Bristol. It would make the finale much more profitable and easier for teams that face a grueling schedule of only one off weekend in 2022.
The only bugaboo I see about moving Bristol is the weather. If you run a night race at Bristol on the first weekend in November, it could get very cold. However, if you start the race at 5 p.m. ET and have it run from the twilight into the nighttime, that could eliminate the weather issues and make it a much more tolerable race, temperature-wise, similar to what we see in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
In the end, Bristol Motor Speedway is the perfect racetrack for championship weekend. It brings back an old school feel and would add additional drama we can’t get on a one-mile track or larger. It would also help create a more level playing field for all the teams involved, creating the type of challenge you want in a season finale. – Clayton Caldwell
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