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NASCAR Short Trackin’ at Bristol

Rusty NormanIt’s high-banked, a little over a half mile around and gets more emotions going than a cross-town rivalry. Oh, and one other thing — it’s fast! But, you already knew that about Bristol. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything NASCAR fans don’t know about the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” but there are a lot of unknowns about the race that will take place on Sunday afternoon.

The most important thing to remember about qualifying is the way the faster teams get to choose their pit stalls. Of course the way the track and pits are configured, pit stall choice is one of the more important details the teams will face if they expect to have a chance at having a good day on Sunday afternoon for 500 laps on the tough short track at Thunder Valley.

Of course, the way the trips to the pits during the race take place will make a big difference, too. If a stop takes place during green flag laps, it could mean finishing one or more laps down. During yellow is much more preferable, but the way the teams perform the stops will still make a big difference in how the teams maintain track position, (and track position is much more important at Bristol than some would lead you to believe.)

If you listen to the drivers talking to the crews and they are gaining spots on the track and losing them in the pits, you can bet the pit crews are going to be getting an ear-full, if for no other reason than the driver is frustrated, (and driver frustration is going to be noticeable all day no matter what at Bristol (it’s just the nature of the beast.)

So, does that mean anything at all about who will take the checkered flag? You can bet on it. Short track racing is high emotion and tense racing and a driver can only take so much of both simply because of the adrenaline flowing through his veins. And then there’s the closeness of the racing and the tendency they all have to lean on each other, which sometimes results in “paybacks.”

The first right side tire Goodyear brought for this race just didn’t work out the way they hoped and even though the teams did have a chance to put on the second choice in the second practice on Saturday, the jury is still out on how it will affect the final results when the checkered flag falls. Since the teams only had one set of tires to figure out how to make the second choice right side tire work, this fan isn’t so sure they will know a whole lot how it may do over the course of the whole race until they actually log the laps on Sunday.

In fact, (also in this fan’s opinion), I think this will prove to even up the field slightly and some that were running slower and further back in lap times will be more competitive. I know these are teams that have a lot of engineering input; but, I am of the opinion this is going to prove a challenge to them all. In other words, some will hit it and some won’t when it comes to changing the setup. From this fan’s view, my greatest concern from observing the last practice session, Saturday, is that we could see some problems with the right fronts on Sunday. I’m sure that may be a little bit of an over-reaction, but if it does come to pass, just remember I mentioned it.

It is firmly this fan’s opinion, this could prove to be one of the most interesting races at Bristol in a while. It is possible that everything will just go along as it would have originally, but I think it is going to be more of a challenge for all of the teams especially at a track where things happen in a hurry and it only takes an extended wiggle to go a lap down and have a good day turn into a bad one. (And then there’s that threat of rain to add intensity to the strategy for the race.)

Even though the Fords looked to be the fastest during the first part of the weekend, it remains to be seen if they make the transition to the different tire and remain as fast as they were up through qualifying. Carl Edwards has definitely been hot in the first part of the year just picking up from where he was at the end of last season. It is possible he could continue doing the same, but it is also possible he will struggle a bit, starting this weekend. I’m not trying to jinx him but he wouldn’t be the first one to have three good races at the beginning of the season and then struggle for several races during the spring.

With the change of the right side tire happening as it did, I can’t say who might win this weekend. It could be someone totally unexpected or it could be someone that hasn’t won in a while. Several names come to mind as possible winners for Sunday’s race. I’m not sure, but I think the Chevy’s are going to be much more competitive than they might have appeared before the tire change. Montoya looked strong and so did Mark Martin.

From this fan’s view, it looks as though Sunday’s race is anybody’s guess. In the last practice, the Fords weren’t even shown in the top ten for speed, but one has to wonder, were the higher speeds run on the old tire, or the replacement. It did look like Matt Kenseth was one of the better Fords in the late practice, but I’m not sure, he and the rest of the Fords just may show up at the front during Sunday’s race and all of this conjecture will be wasted.

Personally, I like the fact that we enter into race-day with all those unknowns I mentioned at the beginning. It just seems to set the stage for a great afternoon of racing and the drama that goes along with the unknown. I do expect the cream to rise to the top by the end of the afternoon and that means those that have proven they can overcome adversity with regularity will be running in the top five when the checkered flag falls. So hold on and get ready for the possibility of some whining to start, if… (and that’s a big if)… Jimmie Johnson ends up in Victory Lane. I’m sure NASCAR will be blamed for having Goodyear change the tire so he could win and move that much closer to going for number six in a row… (well… maybe not; the way people are talking, the winner will probably be Kyle Bush.)

See ya next time…

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 19, 2011 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.