With the Chase drama all but played out with two races to go, were drivers at Bristol playing it a little too conservative? Rate how you felt the track did in its first Cup effort since the repaving, and whether we’ll actually have any drama left in the regular season come Richmond.
For some, the racing at Bristol Saturday night was the best it has been in years. For others, it was a Bristol race in name only, with no fireworks and little excitement. But no matter which side of the fence you are on, there were plenty of winners and losers coming out of the annual madhouse that is Thunder Valley in late summer. Carl Edwards added another 10 bonus points to his Chase count, and should get extra points for sticking the backflip on Bristol’s high banks after his second win of the season. On the flip side, Denny Hamlin’s fried engine left him with just his second career DNF. In between, what could have been a big night for a points shakeup amongst the Chasers instead never materialized, with no driver falling out of, or moving into, the playoffs.
Today’s Question: On Friday, Bill Davis Racing announced Canadian Jacques Villeneuve will drive for the team in the Craftsman Truck Series, with an eye towards bringing the former Formula One star into Cup full-time by February, 2008. Can Villeneuve follow in Juan Pablo Montoya’s footsteps and succeed in Nextel Cup – or will the open wheeler be destined for failure in his transition to American stock car racing?
Career Cup victory and third top-10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway for Sharpie 500 winner Carl Edwards.
1. B-O-R-I-N-G – Drivers were effusive in their praise of Bristol’s new surface and banking, and even the Car of Tomorrow and Goodyear’s hard tire seemed to get a pass (no pun intended). But if NASCAR wants to know why TV ratings are so low, Saturday night’s race provided the answer. A hot, humid summer night race at Bristol used to exemplify the track’s slogan, “Racing the way it oughta be.” But even the broadcasters’ repeated promises that “it’s gonna get interesting soon” couldn’t pump any excitement into this total snoozer.
The two-car battle for the 35th and final position in owner points is close to becoming a three-team race – and that new third team is a team that’s slumping rather than one stepping up as the season nears its stretch run. While its sister car streaked to a second straight top 10 finish at Bristol, the No. 45 from Petty Enterprises seems to have been left behind. The Dodge continues to struggle each and every week, whether it’s Kyle Petty, Chad McCumbee, or Kenny Wallace behind the wheel – a 32nd-place run for Wallace at Bristol is the team’s best finish in five weeks, with results of 41st, 42nd, 33rd and 41st coming in the previous four races. That has left the team dangerously on the edge of falling into the grasp of teams below them.
This past Thursday night, NASCAR lost a great racer. John Blewett III lost his life in a wreck during the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson International Speedway. He was driving his No. 66 modified at the time of the incident. A champion of several tracks throughout the East, at 33 he was considered a seasoned veteran of the modified circuit. It is at moments such as these, when we are mourning the loss of a competitor, husband and father, that it behooves us to stop and consider the dangers of racing and the choices that are made by racers and fans to continue participating in the sport.
In this very column two weeks ago, I gave Kurt Busch a pretty hard time. His Pocono Victory Lane celebration, with its scripted victory speech and fake beer swigging, was not only pre-meditated, it was downright fake. So to be fair, I must acknowledge that Kurt’s straight-up rundown of the last 100 laps and compulsory ‘Thank Yous’ at Michigan were well done.
In short: You drove one helluva race, Kurt, and – by ditching the forced pitchman routine – you scored mucho points with the casual fan by simply being yourself. And the fact that you actually opened the beer bottle before you took a swig was almost, dare I say it?, Junior-esque.
The biggest story at Michigan International Speedway yesterday was the unbelievable loyalty and perseverance exhibited by the race fans who came to the track on Sunday morning and were still around at the conclusion of the 3M Performance 400 on Tuesday afternoon. That the grandstands appeared to be at least half full is a testament to the fact that NASCAR enjoys a fanbase second to none in professional sports. Having experienced rainouts firsthand, I know there are hundreds of individual stories by those that slept in their cars, waded through ankle deep mud, subsisted on junk food and remained generally uncomfortable during the two-day rain delay. And for some, their sacrifices to be in attendance for the race amounts to more than just physical discomfort, as many even ran the risk of straining their relationships with husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and employers. But for them it seemed worth it as they are racing fans!
10. Tony Stewart: “Hey, anyone want to build a raft? We could race…”
As the haulers left Watkins Glen a little over one week ago, the most disappointed team was clearly the No. 22 Bill Davis entry that had just had its bubble burst by Boris Said who piloted the No. 21 to a 14th-place finish and passed the No. 22 into the Top 35 in car owner points. While it was a long weekend at Michigan for every Cup team, with rain postponing the race two consecutive days, it was an even longer week for the No. 22 who had to prepare to qualify for the race on time. The pressure that Dave Blaney had to feel on Friday did not phase the Toyota driver who posted the 17th-fastest time of the session.
David Ragan continues to show steady improvement as he put in a solid top-20 performance at the super-fast MIS. Ragan had competed in the Citizens Bank 400 at Michigan International Speedway in June 2007 in his only other Cup start at the track.