Bristol Motor Speedway is adored by viewers and competitors alike. The tight racing, fender rubbing, and hot tempers the track produces has fans excited each and every time this Eastern Tennessee track shows up on the schedule. Some storylines have already developed this season, but by the time Bristol race weekend is over, the amount will likely be doubled.
In a special Thunder Valley edition of the Trackside Duo, Alanis and Jason discuss some of the biggest stories going into Bristol weekend. Take a final look at these stories as by the time the checkered flag falls in the Food City 500, a whole new topic field will have developed.
1. New qualifying format brings excitement, NASCAR introduces change for Bristol weekend
Alanis: NASCAR made the right move in implementing its new knockout format, though the delayed airing of qualifying sessions has caused some frustration among viewers. The broadcasting method used to show qualifying creates a delay due to the intent of showing all on-track action, and therefore picking up where the broadcast left off after commercial breaks rather than returning with live coverage. However, I personally avoided on-site updates and spoilers during Friday’s session, only watching the broadcast, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition, with NASCAR’s new allowance of cooling units, which eliminates the danger posed by cars cooling engines on the track, I see virtually no grounds for complaints about knockout qualifying.
Jason: There is no denying that the new qualifying format produces much more excitement than the previous system. The first two sessions were definitely exciting, but the danger of cars running at various speeds around the track took away from some of that excitement. With allowing teams to cool down the cars on pit road, Bristol’s session proved to be completely thrilling as cars kept posting fast laps.
2. Daytona 500 wins allows Dale Earnhardt Jr. to play strategy at Las Vegas. As more drivers earn victories, that could be a more common occurrence
Alanis: The notion of “Game 7 moments” originally caused hesitation, as NASCAR has always been a sport centered around consistency and many viewed the “Game 7” intention as NASCAR attempting to liken itself to stick-and-ball sports. Three races into the new season and new format, however, this notion seems to create much more action, much more drama, and many more risks throughout the course of individual races. While the “Game 7” approach was associated with the knockout rounds in the Chase, we are also seeing drivers create that kind of excitement in attempting to get wins, as wins are essentially the one thing that matters during the regular season now. Drivers who already have wins, and virtually guaranteed Chase spots with those wins, are taking risks in order to gain more wins and more points once the playoffs roll around. Drivers without wins are taking risks of nearly the same caliber, as the new championship format encourages a “win and you’re in” mindset. Risk and reward seems to be the mentality in the new age of Sprint Cup Series competition, and so far it has not disappointed.
Jason: Prior to the new Chase format, taking chances at the end of a race had risks outweighing rewards. Under the old system, consistency was just as important as winning so drivers would settle for a fifth-place finish rather than play strategy to go for a win. That notion completely went away at Las Vegas last weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s gamble didn’t pay off, however it was within half of lap of doing so. As more and more teams punch their tickets to the Chase with a victory, strategy will be seen on a larger scale as teams will have nothing to lose by going all out for wins. I expect the end of the races to become thrillers by the summer time as drivers will be taking chances we haven’t seen in quite some time.
3. Faster speeds bringing trouble at Bristol
Alanis: During practice and qualifying at Bristol, the field as a whole seemed to have a harder time with car control. Several drivers, including one of Bristol’s best, Kyle Busch, had to pull out backup cars prior to qualifying after losing control in practice. Whether we’ll see the Old Bristol or not in the coming years is yet to be seen, but if practice and qualifying are any indication of what we’ll see Sunday, the racing will certainly be up to par.
Jason: If practice was any indication, these faster speeds drivers have been experiencing at Bristol are sure to bring some trouble on Sunday. The “Old Bristol” has been campaigned to return for a few years now. The revamped racing surface that made its debut in August of 2012 helped a little, but the old style of racing has never fully returned. However, its return may be here, but not in the way anyone expected. With drivers having a difficult time keeping their cars straight as they race around Thunder Valley at higher speeds, fenders will surely be rubbing on Sunday. Bringing back signs of “Old Bristol.”
4. Brad Keselowski nearly secures Chase spot with Las Vegas win early in season
Alanis: After winning the 2012 championship and missing the 2013 Chase, the No. 2 team can breathe more easily about making this year’s playoffs thanks to a win in the third race of the season. The Vegas win will allow Keselowski the chance to take a riskier approach to the remaining regular season races in order to score more wins and more bonus points for the Chase, which is a chance that I fully expect him to take. Keselowski’s win gives him more security in his championship hopes, which will be beneficial to his performance and points opportunities throughout the remainder of the season.
Jason: Getting this early-season win will be very beneficial for Keselowski and the No. 2 team. Now, they will not have the looming question hanging over their heads of, “Will they get a win before the Chase?” The focus now shifts to winning for the team. This focus suits their style more, so seeing Keselowski up front and contending for wins on a more consistent basis will not be a surprise.
5. Bristol Sprint Cup qualifying sees no wrecks, traffic jams, etc.
Alanis: It only seemed logical for group qualifying on Bristol’s half-mile circuit to have its fair share of hiccups, however the session went rather smoothly on Friday afternoon. Contrary to popular belief, qualifying did not result in on-track complications, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it lacked excitement. And despite qualifying’s smooth running, short tracks always ensure beating and banging at some point, and I’m sure we’ll see a fair share of it in 500 laps on Sunday.
Jason: Going into Friday’s qualifying session, 45 cars running around the half mile Bristol track seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, it went rather well. The excitement was there as drivers were turning multiple laps and trying to beat new times as they kept being posted. Despite qualifying be rather calm, the race will more than likely be action packed. It’s Bristol Baby, and a great race awaits us.