Bristol Rear View Mirror

Joe Gibbs Racing

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano combined to lead 209 laps on Saturday night. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)


Talk about the “new, old” Bristol Motor Speedway has gone on for months.

This year’s first Sprint Cup Series race at BMS will be remembered for the incredible number of empty seats around the half-mile track. A crowd of perhaps 80,000 – less than half the capacity of the cavernous stadium – was scattered around the grandstands for the second year in a row.

The turnout sent shock waves through the NASCAR community as a litany of reasons were thrown out as to why one of the sport’s most popular venues was now playing to such a small audience.

The usual rundown of reasons included the economy, high gasoline prices, outrageous hotel rates and even speculation of oversaturation in the area. The addition of Kentucky Speedway, about a three or four hour drive from BMS, to the Sprint Cup calendar, may have siphoned off more than a few thousand fans that opted to stay either closer to home or take in the visit by NASCAR’s top division to the Bluegrass State track.

So SMI’s Bruton Smith vowed to bring back the “old” Bristol that had jammed 160,000 fans around the coliseum for years. The track was changed to make for less of a racing surface and perhaps generate some of the slam bang action that many fans longed to see again.

Although Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race wasn’t a sellout, it drew a much larger crowd than its spring cousin. An estimated 130,000 turned out for the annual prime time affair that has been a staple of the NASCAR calendar for years, about what was on hand if not a little less than last year’s race.

And for whatever reason most of the problems that seemed to plague the March weekend’s ticket sales were gone for the summer visit. 

What it does prove to me is that despite the cry from some fans that the reconfigured Bristol of post-2007 took something away from the track’s reputation, the racing was as good and in my opinion much better than its predecessor.

Saturday night’s race was a combo platter of that style as well as the contact some felt had been missing.

The proof of whether “Bristol is Back,” as some proclaimed Saturday night will come next March. If the grandstands are once again as bare as the last two spring races, well it might be back to the old drawing board for Bruton and company.

  • Emotion was certainly high Saturday night with a number of high profile drivers getting together and expressing their feelings afterward. Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth crashed while racing for the lead, ending with Smoke tossing his helmet off the 17 car under caution – an episode that will no doubt be played an infinite number of times on sports reports across the country.
  • Ryan Newman got tangled up with Juan Pablo Montoya in another accident on Saturday. The incident was a big blow to Newman’s Wild Card hopes and the Stewart-Haas Racing driver will now have to play catch-up in the next two weeks at Atlanta and Richmond to get into the playoffs.
  • Danica Patrick also had a decent run sidelined by an incident when Regan Smith tagged her rear bumper and sent the No. 10 car crashing into the inside wall. Patrick had worked her way inside the top 20 after starting 42nd but ended her night in the garage.
  • Brian Vickers made a statement about being a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver next year. Vickers nearly won the race in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota before slipping back in the closing laps but still notching another top five finish.

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