March 18, 2013

COMMENTARY ON AUTO RACING: What makes a great race?

Morning Sentinel Staff

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) -- It was a simple question asked the day before the Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway that started a debate: "Who won the last race here?"

The answer: "I don't know, but Tony Stewart threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth."

The fact that Denny Hamlin's victory last August was obscured by Stewart's burst of anger proved once again that drama almost always overshadows the actual racing. Especially at Bristol, where fans have come to expect a temper tantrum or two during every visit to the tight Tennessee bullring.

There is no need to guess what the lasting image will be of Sunday's race. It won't be Kasey Kahne celebrating his first trip to Bristol's winner's circle or his late battle with Brad Keselowski to pick up the victory.

Nope, it's most certainly going to be Joey Logano angrily leaning inside former teammate Denny Hamlin's car window before some light pushing from crew members prevented a full-blown skirmish.

The confrontation led to a pair of tersely worded interviews, with Logano revealing he thought Hamlin was "probably the worst teammate I've ever had." The whole thing lingered long after the race in an amusing Twitter exchange between the two.

That's the stuff fans feast on anymore, and while the grade-school sniping may be a bit much for some, they sure don't mind when the racing draws out that drama.

It's part of the problem that plagued Bristol after a repave in 2007 essentially ruined the racing here in the eyes of the fan. Strangely, the repave created multiple grooves that drivers universally praised.

But happy drivers don't use their bumpers to move a car out of the way. Happy drivers don't run down pit road to yell at a rival. And happy drivers most definitely don't throw their helmets at moving cars.

So after 55 consecutive sellouts, Bristol suddenly wasn't the toughest ticket in NASCAR. The crowd got smaller and smaller, track owner Bruton Smith couldn't take it anymore, and he demanded changes last summer.

The result -- the grinding of the high line around the 0.533-mile track -- made for a better race last August. After all, Stewart did get mad enough to throw that helmet.

It also started a conversation about the fine line the industry walks in trying to find a balance between good racing for the drivers and entertaining the fans. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson touched on the dilemma two days before Sunday's race.

"For the longest time we didn't think the racing was all that good from a competitor's standpoint," Johnson said. "But, we had a sold-out event here with a long waiting list. They change it, drivers are happy, the track is very racy, but you can't sell out the spring race. Last year's race, we were all fighting for one lane which was at the top instead of the bottom. Somebody throws a helmet and it's considered a good race. So, I'm not sure racing and entertainment kind of go in the same piece."

In the case of Bristol, Smith can't seem to do anything right.

He made changes to the track, got a better race in August, and attendance didn't seem to be much better Sunday than it was a year ago. Granted, Thunder Valley has high motel prices and a weather forecast suggesting rain might have kept fans at home.

It's also possible that after three mediocre races with NASCAR's new Gen-6 car to open the season, fans didn't want to spend the money to see its first short track test.

But in sitting home, they missed a race that was good for all the right reasons.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at KJonline.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


Blogs

More PPH Blogs

High School Football 2013

Fall Sports 2012

Purchase Photos

Find more photos >>