The fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race — and the first on a traditional short track — left several indelible impressions. Here’s what I found most memorable about Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway:
My senses told me this was the best racing we’ve seen at Bristol since the resurfacing of the track in 2007. No, it wasn’t the same root-and-gouge single-lane racing we saw 10 or 15 years ago, but to me, it was equally entertaining.
Though there were multiple lanes available, there nevertheless was contact between cars. Tony Stewart’s left-rear tire was an early victim of side-to-side rubbing. Obviously, Denny Hamlin used his bumper a little too aggressively in passing Joey Logano.
The bottom line, though, was that a faster car could work its way past a car that was slightly slower, as we saw throughout the race.
The statistics support that impression. NASCAR’s loop data, which measure the progress of each car at successive scoring loops around the track, indicate that green-flag passes increased from 1,623 in last year’s spring race to 2,354 this year. That’s the second straight week we’ve seen a significant increase in that statistic.
Quality passes (passing a car running in the top 15 under green) were up significantly, too, confirming what we saw with our eyes, namely that there was considerable movement among the fastest cars.
If NASCAR’s new Gen -6 race car is a work in progress, the quality of the racing appears to be ahead of schedule, based on the limited sample we’ve seen so far.
Hamlin can’t seem to avoid controversy. His bump of Logano’s No. 22 Ford, spun Logano’s car into the fence and ruined his chances of winning. After the race, Logano, poked his head into Hamlin’s window and expressed his displeasure, only to be restrained by Hamlin’s crew.
A bit later, the drivers indulged themselves with a cat fight on Twitter.
Is this a budding rivalry? Not yet. For it to progress to that level, Logano will have to take overt, obvious retaliatory action on the race track.
Remember Logano’s run-in with Kevin Harvick at Pocono, the one that produced Logano’s much-quoted “firesuit” comment, as in Harvick’s wife DeLana “wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.”
Cleverly, the Harvicks made T-shirts mocking the comment, but Logano exercised no clear payback on the track. Perhaps that’s why Hamlin felt he could take liberties with Logano at Bristol.
The only way to gain respect in the Cup garage is to back up your words with actions, and Logano hasn’t done that yet. If and when he does, we’ll have a rivalry.
Goodyear brought the same tire combination to Bristol that the Cup series ran there in August. Perhaps because the Gen-6 cars are lighter than their predecessors by 150 pounds, drivers felt a difference in the way the tires behaved.
On two-tire stops, some teams opted for left sides rather than rights. Why? Because fresh left-side rubber allowed the cars to hook the bottom and helped them turn through the corners.
Several who adopted the strategy, however, paid a price. Both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson blew older right fronts during second runs on the those tires.
Blown tires are never a good thing, but in one sense, what we saw Sunday was encouraging. All too often of late, drivers have been able to take two tires or no tires with impunity. At Bristol, it was gratifying to see risk inherent in tire strategy.
Let’s hope that continues to be the case going forward.
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