Bristol Rear View Mirror

Bristol Motor Speedway

Although last August’s night race had a healthy crowd, Sunday’s Food City 500 drew the about the same number of spectators as the 2012 edition. (Photo: Getty Images)

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There was a great deal of discussion and controversy after last year’s March Bristol race when an “announced” crowd of 102,000 showed up in the cavernous stadium.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. Bruton Smith vowed to change that and convinced it was Bristol’s new multi-groove, progressive backing surface that was the culprit, proceeded to reconfigure the short track last summer. Smith ordered the top groove to be ground down hoping to tighten things up and cause more of the rough and tumble action thought to be missing; in turn keeping attendance down.

Although last August’s night race had a healthy crowd, Sunday’s Food City 500 drew the about the same number of spectators as the 2012 edition.

And the racing was spectacular – as it was even before Smith turned the bulldozers loose.

Certainly weather may have played a factor in the weekend’s ticket sales with rain permeating much of the forecast. But as I said a year ago and remain convinced, there are a lot of reasons why Bristol’s Spring race doesn’t equal the famed night event’s turnout but the on track product isn’t one of them.

Legitimate explanations include the economy, high gasoline prices, outrageous hotel rates and even 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.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with the racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. If track management wants to do anything, perhaps take out a few seats and increase the demand to better suit the supply.

However unless outrageous hotel prices are addressed and a dome can be built over the track, weather and the economy will be the two biggest challenges for fans trying to attend the annual March race.

Once the green flag waves, there’s not much better in NASCAR today than what takes place at Bristol.

  • There shouldn’t be any griping about the Gen-6 car after Sunday’s race from both drivers and fans. The new Sprint Cup machine looked great on the Bristol high banks and with aerodynamic impact minimal, there was a lot to like about the racing on display. Two and three wide racing was the order of the day on the Bristol layout and as is usually the case, a good old-fashioned short track race is the perfect tonic to get the sport back on the right track.
  • It was another less than memorable weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing. Although Ryan Newman slipped inside the top 10 at the checkered flag, teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick had miserable days. Stewart was out of contention before the race really started when he cut a tire and slammed the wall, heavily damaging his Chevrolet. Patrick qualified 41st and fell a lap down within the first 25 laps of the race eventually climbing back to finish 28th. Stewart has dug himself a pretty big hole after only four races and needs to start that climb back sooner rather than later.
  • Maybe only at Bristol would you see the first and second place drivers take each other out. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday when Jeff Gordon cut a tire while leading only to have Matt Kenseth pile drive into the rear end of his car after making impact with the wall. The duo looked like they would be right in the mix for a victory but Gordon’s melted bead – one of many that happened to a variety of drivers on Sunday – triggered the violent accident that knocked both out.
  • Let’s not overlook how good Saturday’s Nationwide Series race was as well this weekend. While the Cup headliner was probably the best of that division’s four in 2013, the Nationwide warm-up had more than its share of memorable moments. Not in the least of which was the wild finish between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, that saw the duo make contact with one another while taking the checkered flag. But the entire 200-laps were chock full of exciting racing and storylines all wrapped up in a neat little two hour package. Pretty much a perfect day at the races.

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