Bristol Rear View Mirror


A thrilling side-by-side battle for the win between Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne added up to one of the most entertaining races of the year. (Photo: Getty Images)


The old Bristol vs. new Bristol argument should officially be put to rest after Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race. If you didn’t like this year’s annual summer trip to Thunder Valley under the lights, there’s not much more NASCAR racing can provide.

Close racing, high emotions, battered racecars, pit strategy, championship implications and a thrilling side-by-side battle for the win between Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne added up to one of the most entertaining races of the year. Short of a driver tossing his helmet at another like last year’s Tony Stewart-Kenseth masterpiece, there wasn’t much missing from this year’s event.

The racing at Bristol is different than the single file pre-2007 style that was basically a conveyor belt around the track. There are multiple ways to race side-by-side and actually pass rather than simply ramming the car ahead of you to take a position, a tactic Kahne refused to employ to steal Saturday’s win from Kenseth.

There are still accidents as a result of the tight quarters and high speeds and whether or not Bruton Smith’s year-old tweaks to the configuration have actually made a difference is still questionable.

But to those who preferred 22 caution flags and a 4-1/2 hour race I say there are enough Figure-8 and demolition derbies around the country held every year that should satisfy your fix for destruction. 

I’ll take what I witnessed Saturday night and during last Wednesday’s truck race at Bristol. It's about as good as it gets in NASCAR.

  • Jimmie Johnson’s last two weeks have been more than forgettable for the five-time champion. After last week’s Michigan engine failure, Johnson struggled with an ill-handling car most of Saturday night before finally getting caught up in an accident with David Reutimann and basically ending his night. The theory Johnson and Chad Knaus were experimenting Saturday holds not water since there isn’t a track in the Chase anywhere near to the Bristol layout. It may just be not even the mighty 48 team is completely bullet proof, although I’ll believe that when the Chase actually starts.
  • Attendance has been a hot topic at Bristol in recent years with the track’s many reconfigurations hoping to lure back fans and fill some empty seats. Saturday night’s crowd wasn’t a sell out but it was certainly strong some estimating maybe 85 percent of the 165,000 seating capacity. I still contend the on track product has nothing to do with the attendance ups and downs at Bristol with the economy, over saturation of racing at tracks in close proximity and the weather making more of an impact. The night race in August will always generate near sellouts and the spring race won’t. Case closed.
  • The Kurt Busch saga took a couple of interesting turns over the weekend. The Stewart-Haas Racing offer to field a fourth car for Busch in 2014 appears to come solely from team co-owner Gene Haas wanting the former series champion in his stable. Haas appears willing to fund an entry for Busch basically out of his own pocket without outside sponsorship if need be to get the mercurial driver in the fold. Unfortunately for Busch his chances to make the Chase took a significant shot Saturday night when he experienced early problems and fell 25 laps down before returning to the track.
  • Shout outs to some new names inside the top 10 starting with Brian Vickers, who started his role as the permanent driver of the No. 55 with a nice comeback performance and a 4th place finish. Juan Pablo Montoya shook off his lame duck status at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing coming home one position better in 3rd. Joey Logano’s night got off to a rocky start when he got caught in an early incident but he bounced back for a fifth-place run. Paul Menard overcame an obstacle or two for a 6th place effort. And Marcos Ambrose gave Richard Petty Motorsports a nice outing with an eighth-place finish.

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