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Bristol Rear-View Mirror

Unpredictable.

That’s the best way to describe Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

A race that began with a multi-car accident involving a driver who turned out to be the winner and ended with some questionable pit strategy, a controversial black flag and two brothers racing to the checkered flag might have been the best of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

See Also: Bristol Race Recap and Results

I realize Kyle Busch winning for the third time this year might not fit under the unpredictable heading but that was only the ending of a story that contained several twists and turns.

When “Thunder Valley” rolls around on the calendar it elicits the discussion among fans about what’s better – today’s Bristol or the old version of the track that was known more for its single file, bump and run style that did produce many memorable moments but many single file conveyor belt affairs as well. The answer for me is a little of both.

There is enough side-by-side racing to go along with the need to get a little physical now and then to make Bristol an entertaining stop on the schedule once again. Especially in a season dominated by talk of rules changes, aerodynamics and their impact on the racing it was refreshing to put that on the back burner. It turned out the new rules did make things faster and a bit different but overall the focus of the day was on short track racing and all its glory.

The Kyle Busch Show rolled on, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske continued their stranglehold of the series and unfortunately there will undoubtedly be discussion about the people not at the track rather than the fans who were there on Sunday.

But overall the Food City 500 checked all the right boxes.

  • Inspection continues to be somewhat of a focal point and it was a huge storyline before Sunday’s race when Kevin Harvick’s car failed three times. That meant the Stewart-Haas Racing driver would start from the rear of the field, have a pass through penalty and lose lead engineer Billy Kuebler. Harvick will also be docked practice time next week in Richmond. Crew chief Rodney Childers explained when one area was changed to conform to the rules it moved another out of compliance. Teams still push as dangerously close to the edge as possible but when they go over, NASCAR’s bite is much more than the bark was prior to this year.
  • Saturday’s Xfinity Series Alsco 300 was the best race of the series this season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence one of the reasons was the lack of Cup drivers in the field. Drivers from NASCAR’s top tier are forbidden from competing in Dash 4 Cash races and Saturday was the first of the four bonus events in 2019. The result was a wildly entertaining affair with the drivers vying for the $100,000 bonus battling for position and the win with others also in the mix. The age old discussion about whether Cup drivers should be allowed to compete in the series at all will rage among the fan base most likely forever. But for my money they weren’t missed at all Saturday at Bristol.
  • There were some feisty drivers in Bristol this weekend based on both comments made and what was not said. NASCAR’s new policy mandates drivers are go through a designated bullpen area for interviews after qualifying. Also those finishing second through 10th in every race must participate in a bullpen interview session as well. The sanctioning body had to distribute a memo to teams reminding them of the new procedures and the fines associated with missing an interview session as outlined in the rulebook. The format is to provide media with more access to drivers, which in turn gives fans additional context and texture to the race weekend. But for it to work there has to be cooperation.
  • The struggles for Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports on track are unfortunately not the only challenges in 2019. Funding and sponsorship continues to be elusive for the team and the correlation between the lack of money and performance was addressed over the weekend. But it is the ultimate “chicken or the egg” conundrum – how do you attract more sponsorship without running well but how can you run well with limited resources? “I think the biggest thing is dollar signs,” Wallace said over the weekend in Bristol. “Over the years we have kind of tip-toed around that, but that’s enough of that. We’re behind on money. It’s all about being up front and being blunt. It’s coming down to a crucial time, we just have to start running better.”

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.