The week at Bristol was like Disneyland for a race fan. There were 4 races from 4 different classes of cars. There was smoke from tires. The aroma of high test fuel hung in the air. The scent of E15 lingered just long enough to tingle in your nose. The roar of lions and tigers and bears oh my echoed through out the valley of thunder. This was heaven. This was racing at its best.Bristol displayed her pageantry much like an old time joust. Contestants came from all over the country to bide for her hand. But only a few would be chosen as crown princes for 2011.
[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”245″][/media-credit]Bristol’s week was sectioned up differently than other weekends. The Whelen Modified and the Camping World Trucks run on Wednesday. The reason for this difference according to Lori Worley, Public Relations official for Bristol Motor speedway is, “The reason we don’t race on Thursday is that Food City, who sponsors our March Cup event and August Nationwide event, has a huge fan experience in downtown Bristol on Thursday night. More than 25,000 people attend the event, which features driver autograph sessions, live music, free food, etc. and it’s very important to them that the event is successful. So that’s the reason we race Wednesday instead of Thursday.” Little do they know that Bristol’s race fans win all the way around, not only do they get an extra day of vacation for the race weekend, the racing is top notch and the fan experience is icing on the cake.
Wednesday saw a hard fought Whelen modified race that was for the most part dominated by Ryan Newman. Newman who had his win in New Hampshire revoked by NASCAR for an unfortunate mistake by engine builders Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines, when they mistakenly placed the wrong gaskets on the engine for the Kevin Manion entry, was out to prove that win was not because of the illegal engine.
“This is a little bit of a redemption for us, to come out here and redeem ourselves a little bit in respect to people’s opinions after Loudon,” Newman said, “It was just a really fun race, the yellow flags at the start kind of slowed everybody’s thoughts, but getting back to green flag racing, I thought we saw some really good racing. It was a lot of fun.”
Justin Bonsignore finished second followed by Todd Szegedy who came from a lap down to finish third after being in multiple on track incidents and losing a spark plug wire. James Civali and Patrick Emerling rounded out the top five. The highest placing series regular was Frank Fleming. Series icon Teddy Christopher did not compete in the race due to the lack of ride.
The Camping World Trucks put on an equally exciting show, with Kevin Harvick winning his third truck race in a row.Bristol is Bristol however and the race was not without its controversy. Elliott Sadler driving the 24 truck for the Joe Denette Motorsports team this week had contact with Kyle Busch when Busch moved up the track too soon having not cleared Sadler’s truck. Sadler clipped the 18 in the Right rear corner and turned Busch into the wall. Busch then slowed on the track waiting for Sadler to come back around and hooked Sadler causing minimal damage to the 24. Busch retreated to the garage where efforts were made to repair the badly damaged KBM entry were unsuccessful. Post race comments were heated with Kyle Busch insinuating that Sadler took him out because of “where his paycheck comes from.”
Friday, would bring the one day show of the Nationwide Series into the spotlight. The pole would be the familiar Joe Gibbs entry of Kyle Busch. The outside front row would be occupied by Gibbs team mate Joey Logano. Logano would make the firm announcement of ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy’ before the race began.
The field hosted its normal cup regulars with the exception of Brad Keselowski who was still nursing a fractured ankle and was replaced with Parker Kligerman in the Discount Tire/Ruby Tuesdays Dodge Charger.
The race was a hard fought battle between Clint Bowyer and the Gibbs team mates. Bowyer who was on board the Rheem Chevrolet for KHI led a good portion of the race leading for 109 laps.
But in the end it would be Kyle Busch beating team mate Joey Logano by the smallest margin in track history since the beginning of electronic scoring in 1993. Busch would win his fourth consecutive nationwide series race and 50th victory in the series, by just .019 seconds.
“It’s awesome,” Busch said of the 50th win, his 23rd in his past 51 Nationwide starts. “We had Mark with us there in Loudon [when Busch tied the record July 16], and it was a phenomenal way to win 49 races and tie Mark Martin. And then to come here and to be able to beat his record here at Bristol, one of my favorite places and one of the team’s favorite places, it was certainly an awesome race.”
The top five would be Logano, Bowyer, Edwards and Aric Almirola with Almirola being the highest finishing Nationwide regular.
The Sprint Cup race was a must see event. With Ryan Newman leading the field to the green flag and taking the lead early Newman would consistently run in the top 10 all day. Not so for team mate Tony Stewart who had a very uncharacteristically bad day starting 42nd and finishing 28th 4 laps down to the field.
The dominant horse in the field would prove to be the 24 car of Jeff Gordon who would lead 5 different times for a race high 206 laps. Gordon who would come out of the pits on the final stop in 4th would climb back to 3rd but was unable to get past Martin Truex Jr for 2nd.
The race win would instead go to Brad Keselowski in the Miller Lite Blue Deuce of Penske Racing. Keselowski whose race average over the last 4 races is 1.52, took the lead on lap 421 and never looked back. The obvious elated Keselowski said of his victory, “An awesome race car. An awesome race team. Penske Racing. The night race at Bristol! This is the race that Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt win. It’s the race of champions. I can’t believe it. There are races that pay more. There are races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest damn one of them all. We won it!”
Four teams can now breathe a sigh of relief having clinched their chase spots. Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards all sealed up their chase spots after the race in Bristol.
Dale Earnhardt Jr, who now has 36 points on 10th place Tony Stewart, could clinch his spot after Atlanta with a strong finish. Crew Chief Steve Letarte said Monday morning that the 88 team would be taking their Kansas/Charlotte car to Atlanta. “That car that always ends up in the front of the race. We want to put on a great show for the fans.” Letarte stated that they feel it is important to keep their chase fate in their hands by racing conservatively and once that chase berth was solidified fans would see a more aggressive and very different 88 team.
The joust ended, sadly for those in the stands and in front of television sets around the world; with relief for those participants who escaped with their competitive spirits intact. Bristol choose her champions. They fought their battles with great spirit and with great respect to the lady. Her champions will stand until the spring when again the joust will begin anew.
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Congratulations to Ryan Newman on his Whelen modified series victory. For the record, anyone who has followed the series knew the gasket mistake did not win the race in New Hampshire.
Congratulations to Kevin Harvick on his Camping World Truck Series victory. Three in a row is a statement that KHI takes the owners championship very very seriously.
Congratulations to Kyle Busch on his Nationwide Series Win. 50 wins in any series is nothing to sneeze at. But 50 in the ultra competitive Nationwide series is a true showing of talent.
Congratulations to Brad Keselowski on his phenomenal performance not just in his win at Bristol, but over the last few weeks. Some never doubted it would happen. Those that did, don’t anymore.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.