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NASCAR Bristol postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, March 19, 2012

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You can't hide a poor crowd in a 160,000 1/2-mile bullring
As a general rule, anytime you place 43 full sized stock cars on a half mile oval race track you have to be thinking about yellow caution flags and how many times you're going to see them. When that half mile oval happens to be the Bristol Motor Speedway, then we're really expecting to see some yellow flags.

The potential circumstances being what they were, the NASCAR weekend at Bristol, featuring the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races, was actually very polite, but very good, racing. With that thought in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for an outstanding winning performance during the Food City 500 at Bristol. The Penske Racing Dodge driver led a race high 232 laps on the way to his first win of the season, his fifth career Sprint Cup win, his second consecutive win at Bristol and the tenth Bristol win for team owner Roger Penske.

Whether or not this next item is a THUMBS-UP or a WHAT'S-UP depends on how you feel about the current state of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was deemed by many that both the Nationwide Series' Ford EcoBoost 300 and the Sprint Cup's Food City 500 featured both polite and very good racing. There was no display of the high speed demolition derby we used to see at this race track. The combined races ran a total of 800 laps and there were nine caution flags that consumed 79 laps of the two races. The race winner probably put it best when he said "Bristol racing ain't what it used to be and that's true: it's better than it used to be." You're right, it's easy to say that when you're the one standing in victory lane holding the big trophy.

THUMBS-UP to the competitive variety we've seen so far in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. The first four races have turned up four different winners from four different teams representing four different auto manufacturers. There has also been four different drivers setting fast time in qualifying. Now that's a level playing field.

THUMBS-UP to Matt Kenseth for his hard charging second place finish after leading 45 laps of the race. He's now third in the points standings and only 12 markers out of first.

THUMBS-UP to Michael Waltrip Racing for an outstanding day at Bristol. Drivers Martin Truex Jr, Cling Bowyer and Brian Vickers finished second through fourth in a strong effort that was overdue for these teams.

Vickers especially deserves these accolades after leading 125 laps of the race. Vickers will be driving a total of six selected races for MWR in the #55 Toyota normally occupied by Mark Martin. After spending nearly all of the 2010 season recovering from a very serious illness, he returned in 2011 only to cope with his team, Red Bull Racing, shutting down. Sunday's Bristol performance was a major audition for Vickers towards finding a quality ride for next year. He did a good job impressing us all by leading more laps during this race than he has over the last two years.

THUMBS-UP for Jimmie Johnson. Why does he deserve that for a ninth place finish in a race that he really wasn't a factor in? It's because of this team's refusal to bow down to adversity. Between an early race crash at Daytona, combined with the loss of championship points from a high profile failed tech inspection, Johnson's team left the first race of the season ranked 44th in the standings. Three consecutive top ten finishes later, the team has elevated themselves to 17th. This is how five time champions roll.

WHAT'S-UP with that lap 25 accident that wadded up seven race cars some, of which, were pre race favorites? Kasey Kahne was told that he had Regan Smith cleared, heading into turn one, only to find out that wasn't necessarily the case. The cars of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Marcus Ambrose and Kevin Harvick also sustained moderate to major damage. WHAT'S-UP with that level of aggressive driving so early in a 500 lap race?

WHAT'S-UP with a frustrated Kasey Kahne and the horrible racing luck he's enduring so early in the season. There was high anticipation for the newest member of Hendrick Motorsports prior to the start of the season. So far expectations have not materialized. In the first four races of the season, Kahne has finishes of 29th, 34th, 19th and 37th and has now fallen to 32nd in the points. Following his latest round of bad luck, during the Bristol race, a clearly frustrated Kahne said "I guess I listen to my spotter too much."

THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick's Budweiser/Richard Childress Racing team for their pit road performance following this crash. Through a series of nine successive pit stops, during the yellow flag laps, this team made massive repairs to the front of their car and kept their driver on the lead lap. He finished 11th which elevated him to second in the points standings only nine markers from the leader. This is how future champions roll.

WHAT'S-UP with that contact between team mates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr that sent Gordon's car spinning backwards into the wall? WHAT'S-UP with the masses, from television broadcasters to fans on race blogs, claiming it's a deterioration of the relationship between team mates? Following some extremely light contact between the cars, the sheet metal side skirts on Earnhardt's Chevrolet, that surrounds the exhaust pipes, cut Gordon's tire. Perhaps the conspiracy theorists read too much into Gordon's radio comments when he said "thanks you Junior, I appreciate it buddy. I was going to give it, (the track position), to them anyway." Afterwards, a seemingly calm Gordon said "it wasn't intentional, but it sure ruined out day." Earnhardt immediately came over his car radio to forward his apologies for the crash even though he actually did nothing wrong and later said he really felt bad for Jeff. Let's stop the conspiracy, these guys are just fine. They will not be treated to milk and cookies in Mr. Hendrick's office over this incident. It's just a racing deal that unfortunately sometimes happens.

However, Earnhardt wound up with a bigger problem later in this race. WHAT'S-UP with a solid top ten finish being eradicated by, of all things, speeding on pit road? The penalty came late in the race, during a caution flag, and there really wasn't enough laps left to recover from the damage. Earnhardt had to settle for a 15th place finish and dropped to sixth in the points standings.

WHAT'S-UP with driver Matt Kenseth arriving at the start/finish line ahead of the race leader following a double file restart? Normally that would have resulted in a drive through penalty because the rules clearly states that the race leader has to cross the line first before another driver can make a move to advance his position.

THUMBS-UP to NASCAR officials for making quick work of resolving this issue. They checked the video and determined that race leader, Brad Keselowski, failed to hit his throttle fast enough, in the official designated restart zone, and it wasn't Kenseth's fault that he arrive at the line first. 

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THUMBS-UP to Elliot Sadler for winning the Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol. He's now won two of the four races so far this season. Sadler has established a very interesting pattern in the Nationwide Series so far. In four races he has finished third, first, third and first. According to the pattern, look for him to finish third next Saturday in Fontana-California.   

THUMBS-UP to winning crew chief Luke Lambert for making that gutsy call that kept his driver on the track during a final round of available pit stops during a caution flag. The track position gained from this decision turned out to be the race winning move.

THUMBS-UP to Sadler for showing us that he's very good at multi tasking. After the race he removed his helmet and neck device while in the midst of doing a victory burn out.

THUMBS-UP to Sadler's parents who visited their son in victory lane for the first time ever. The sight of Mom Sadler hugging her son and screaming "that's my baby !" was just precious.

WHAT'S-UP with an unusual pit road miscue that made life difficult for driver Kasey Kahne? Doing double duty in the Nationwide Series for Turner Motorsports, Kahne came over his radio late in the race and said "the car is terrible and getting worse." It was a mystery to his crew who had made adjustments on the car during two previous pit  stops. Crew chief Mike Shiplett wisely checked the pit road video tapes and discovered that, during one of the stops, the adjustment wrench had been turned in the wrong direction.

THUMBS-UP for crew chief Mike Shiplett for also making the gutsy call to keep his driver on the track during the final yellow flag of the race. That decision led to a second place finish in the final results. That's what we call making chicken salad out of chicken do do.

THUMBS-UP to the current Nationwide Series box score: series regulars four, Cup visitors zero. All of a sudden the Cup visitors, with their high dollar teams, seem to be taking a back seat to the talents of the series regulars. The last time Nationwide Series regulars won the first four races of the season was back in 1995.

WHAT'S-UP with that crew member being hit on pit road? The tightly packed action on Bristol's narrow pit road can often get as intense as the racing on the track. During the early stages of the Nationwide Series' race, the teams were on pit road following a yellow caution flag. Driver Sam Hornish Jr exited his pit stall and accidentally struck the rear tire changer, from the #08 Randy Hill Racing entry, who was completing pit service directly in front of the Hornish Dodge. The crew member did a forward flip and bounced off of the front fender of the oncoming Dodge. Despite a hard landing on the Bristol pit road, the crew member was not hurt but there was a large dent in the fender of the Hornish car.

First off, apologies to this man for not being to locate his name and, believe me, I tried. That's because he deserves a THUMBS-UP for his pit road performance. Following the forward somersault and the crash landing, he jumped to his feet, ran to the right side of his race car and completed the pit road service. You just can't say enough about the dedication of these over the wall guys.

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In some final thoughts: WHAT'S-UP with Robby Gordon Motorsports having to withdraw their entry from the Bristol Cup race? The RGM Dodge suffered a "massive" electrical failure and the team simply couldn't get the engine to start. The car never made it onto the track for even one lap of practice. This is just another example of the racing luck this team has endured so far in 2012. It's really amazing when you consider how successful RGM has been in its off road racing endeavors.

With the NASCAR weekend at Bristol also landing on St Patrick's Day Saturday you had to expect there would be a lot of "luck of the Irish" references. Danica Patrick's Nationwide Series ride was even adorned with shamrocks on her bright green Go Daddy Chevrolet. But WHAT'S-UP with any fan who truly believes that St Patrick's Day has anything to do with Danica? You fans on the racing blogs and "Twitter" really crack me up sometimes.

Speaking of racing blogs, the final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to "Gerald" for a March 14th comment posted on "Race Central's Whine Cellar," an extremely popular racing forum headquartered in San Bernardino-California. His comment said: "coming to a show room near you.....the 2013 Chevrolet Cheater. (It comes) with the Knaus Package, a set of extra C posts, special "Infineon" fenders and an adjustable rear window. (it) even has the enhanced three year warranty with unlimited appeals."

Now that's a case of LMAO.

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