Hot Laps Bristol Edition
March 21, 2010 | 4:41 P.M. EST
I'm sure there will be much conversation this week about Bristol Motor Speedway not selling out Sunday's Food City 500.
But I think it's a waste of time.
Yep, the 55 race record of the Tennessee short track filling every seat came to an end on Sunday. But the way I look at it, there were still well over 120,000 jammed into that coliseum, a number any professional sports league would take in a heartbeat.
Unlike the early season issues at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, it really doesn't matter if Bristol had seats go unsold. Despite the fact fans didn't sell out the place, unlike the other two attendance-challenged tracks in Fontana and Atlanta, Bristol is not on the bubble as a track in danger of losing a date.
SMI and ISC need dates for 2011 to bring Cup races to Kentucky and Kansas respectively. They have to come from somewhere and ACS and AMS are the two most likely to have a race stripped to fulfill that goal. That's why attendance discussions warranted around that pair of tracks.
Bristol won't be losing a race anytime soon so an off race, like Sunday's, should be viewed as just that. Despite an uptick, the economy is still very tough and obviously some fans are still having a hard time, in many cases choosing events to attend much closer to home.
And despite all tracks - including Bristol - trying to give relief with ticket values, let's face it, going to a NASCAR race weekend is still an expensive venture in many cases when you factor in travel, food and lodging. In Bristol's case it doesn't help when area hotels continue to charge fans ridiculous $300 night rates with minimum stays required. I hope those wise business people enjoyed the sight of empty over priced hotel rooms this weekend.
In Bristol's case I think the attendance glass is still way over half full. Plus I'm willing to bet by the time August rolls around, "Thunder Valley" will be back to hosting a capacity crowd. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus pulled off what I'd call another one of their "statement wins" Sunday in Bristol. Despite two top tens a year ago, Johnson's overall record at the half-mile track was not stellar and last week not many were picking Johnson to come home with another good finish, let alone a victory. But at the end of the day there was the 48 car in victory lane and I believe very much that the team uses any disrespect it receives as a motivation factor.
Sunday was one of the better Bristol races since the new configuration featuring lead changes, side-by-side racing and some damaged race cars as beating and banging returned to "Thunder Valley." I'm not sure whether the extended SAFER Barriers made the racing surface a little tighter and gave drivers less room, which triggered some of the multi-car accidents we saw, but it would appear Bristol now has the best of the old and new for fans who have clamored for the track's "good old days."
Nothing boiled over on the Brad Keselowski-Carl Edwards font over the weekend and after their meeting with NASCAR Saturday morning the duo played well together. There were a few tense moments when the 99 and 12 cars raced with each other in the closing laps of Sunday's race but all in all things seem to have quieted down - for now.
There was a lot of hype about going to Bristol in the wake of the Atlanta fireworks between the two including promotional initiatives by race tracks and even television networks. Is it really wise for FOX to be promoting next week's Martinsville race as "another demolition derby" though?
While Keselowski and Edwards caled down, sparks flew between Edwards and Kevin Harvick in a war of words early in the weekend. Harvick called out Edwards as "fake" but lost some of his credibility for taking Edwards to task for his driving style when he rammed Joey Logano out of the way on the last lap of Saturday's Nationwide Series race to steal a fifth place finish.
It's been a great event and Bristol Motor Speedway has done an outstanding job putting it together, but I hope I've seen the last of the Saturday Night Showdown. After the frightening crash between Charlie Glotzbach and Larry Pearson, these stars from the past simply do not belong racing in lightning-fast late model stock cars at their advanced ages. Let's treasure these heroes and not put them in peril any longer.