The title may belong to the Daytona 500, but for many fans, there was a time when the second race at Bristol was the “Great American Race.” Is there anything more American than a short track race on a Saturday night? Better yet, folks who don’t have satellite or cable TV get to see the race, as it will be broadcast on ABC.
After years of hearing the numerous complaints concerning the multi-groove racing at Bristol, track owner Bruton Smith has repaved the track to the delight of many. After testing on the new surface, defending champion Tony Stewart says the high groove is gone. NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace, a man who knows a thing or two about the track, said that racing in Thunder Valley was akin to “flying an airplane in a gymnasium.” Frustrated fans can only hope the days of full contact bump-to-bumper racing are back.
There will be a few drivers on hand who will be driving with a purpose, needing a win to bolster any hope of making the Chase, which looms around the corner. Front and center is four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who has been unable thus far to parlay the victory at Pocono into further momentum. He’s a little riled after Michigan, and those who know will tell you the Wonder Boy is not adverse to the use of the chrome horn if he smells a victory.
There are plenty more in the same boat, between the likes of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano. Provisional wild cards Kasey Kahne are no strangers to success on short tracks, and both can fortify their tenuous positions with wins.
On a greater level, NASCAR stands to learn more about declining attendance its races. Only the intellectually dishonest would discount the lack of quality racing as a key culprit in the presence of empty seats in Thunder Valley. It used be someone just about had to die to free up a seat. That’s hardly been the case in recent races at the track.
By the same token, high ticket prices, high fuel prices, outrageous room rates, and a flagging economy have done the sport and this race few favors. Discretionary dollars are hard to come by. The lure of a better race experience may draw fans back out of the wood work. For the sake of those who have already made the gamble, one can only hope their wishes have been rewarded.
All the pieces are in place, it would seem, for one of the best races seen in 2012. NASCAR needs it, Bristol Motor Speedway needs it, and most of all, the fans need it. How refreshing would it be if we had a race that lived up to the hype at a track that defined dependability for good racing.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include: