Bristol Rear View Mirror

Bristol Motor Speedway

For the second straight year the spring Bristol race featured a very less than full grandstand. (Photo: Getty Images)

The NASCAR short track season began with Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the course of the next month the Sprint Cup Series will visit three tracks smaller than a mile in length with Martinsville and Richmond on the horizon.

It’s not enough.

Back in the day venerable North Wilkesboro Speedway was also in the mix when spring rolled around the NASCAR’s top division concentrated on the smaller-sized tracks where the sport was born.

We all know what happened to Wilkesboro and unfortunately the demise of small tracks has impacted NASCAR’s top three divisions with the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series also dealing with the issue.

The racetrack building boom more than a decade ago gave birth to the “multi-purpose” facility, tracks that tried to cater to both stock car and Indy Car racing.

So up sprung 1.5-mile speedways in Kentucky, Kansas, Chicago, Texas and Las Vegas that all helped NASCAR grow in one regard by bringing the sport to a variety of new markets around the country but hampered its growth in another way by providing the same style of racing.

The fans dislike of “cookie cutter” tracks has been heard loud and clear and the irony of the situation is that the tracks built hoping to accommodate two styles of racing for the most part now only host one.

American open wheel racing has abandoned high-speed superspeedway competition for a variety of reasons. So NASCAR’s divisions fill the bill and for the most part don’t produce the tight racing most fans want to see.

Bristol, even in its new configuration that may not create as many caution flags or wrecks but still provides tight racing, is the example of how a short track can also be a lucrative business model. Parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. has proven it is possible to have a short track that can host crowds in excess of 145-150,000 with the coliseum its turned Bristol into.

Richmond has also expanded its seating capacity and the track everyone has its eyes set on as a possible addition to the Sprint Cup Series Iowa Speedway also has the infrastructure in place to add seats.

It’s a no-brainer for NASCAR to bring the sport back to its short track roots. While it’s certainly a much more difficult task at the Sprint Cup level, the Nationwide and truck circuits certainly should be headed in that direction.

The decision to leave Lucas Oil Raceway for whatever the reasons may have been has the potential of being one of the worst public relations decisions since the Southern 500 was uprooted from Labor Day weekend nearly a decade ago.

NASCAR needs to guide big time stock car – and truck – racing back to smaller venues. It will pay big dividends down the road.

  • The argument about whether the “old” Bristol was better than the “new” Bristol will continue to rage on after Sunday’s race that didn’t have double digit caution flags and a garage full of wrecked racecars. While there were a couple of accidents, most notably the big multi-car pile-up on lap 24, there are fans that long for the days when Bristol produced 18-20 yellows and 100 laps of caution. Now we have side-by-side racing, drivers able to size one another up and actually pass without ramming the other out of the way and racing rather than wrecking. But it sounds like there’s still a very vocal faction that doesn’t like that style of competition.
  • The chain reaction accident early in the race knocked out a number of pre-race favorites including Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne. Kahne got crossed up trying to get around Regan Smith as the field raced down the frontstretch and after contact slide up the turn one banking right into the path of oncoming traffic. It was yet another disappointing outing for Kahne who has not started his Hendrick Motorsports career anywhere near the way most expected.
  • The entire Michael Waltrip Racing team was impressive on Sunday with the trio all finishing inside the top ten. But maybe the most interesting of the bunch was the effort by Brian Vickers, who wheeled the MWR No. 55 for the first of six races this season. Vickers was without a ride when Red Bull Racing shut down at the end of last year and got the call to fill in for the half dozen races at Waltrip’s team just two weeks ago. He certainly made the most of his opportunity on Sunday with a run that turned a lot of heads around the NASCAR world.
  • For the second straight year the spring Bristol race featured a very less than full grandstand. The cavernous track, which seats 154,000 at full capacity, looked about half filled. While the March visit to the track has never generated the attendance of the annual summer night race, the last two years have been more sparse than ever. High hotel rates, rising gas prices, weather uncertainty, ticket sales going to Kentucky Speedway and the track’s new layout are all most likely reasons for the attendance decline that has to have track management and NASCAR worried.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup

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