Fans wanted to see the fender banging and the bump-and-run driving from days of old at the Bristol track; drivers wanted good racing, not wrecking. What we got was unexpected with some drivers not so happy.
With only three chances left for several drivers to have a shot at the Chase, the modification to the track could have been a game-changing factor for those who thought they had a handle on racing at BMS.
At the track billed as the "World's Fastest Half-Mile," it was wild Saturday night racing that gave us drama and entertainment with no place to hide for drivers forced to be in the mix for 500 laps.
The Irwin Tools Night Race is a fan favorite on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule and this race taught us some lessons, so let see what some of them were.
Denny Hamlin survived to capture the win at Bristol Motor Speedway in the No. 11 car. It was his third win of the season, which is good for bonus points in the Chase.
Hamlin had never won at Bristol and ranked this win as one of the most important for him. It was the 200th win for car No. 11, two more wins than for the iconic No. 43 car.
It was a good night for the JGR drivers with Kyle Busch finishing sixth and Joey Logano sliding into the eighth place slot.
Hamlin is now up two markers to eighth in the point standings.
Track owner Bruton Smith had a plan to make the racing more exciting for the fans by grinding down the top groove of the track.
It was intended to force the drivers to run in the bottom and middle groove which would make for tighter racing and more action for the fans.
Kasey Kahne changed the game plan after about 50 laps when he started running on the top groove and was gaining time. Soon the light gray area blackened as it took rubber from all the cars.
The grand plan did not work as it was intended, but the race had 13 caution periods and the best action-filled racing that fans had seen in some time at BMS.
Passing was difficult and drivers were running over one another to gain position. It was supposed to be the bottom groove that would be used for passing, but the top groove was the fastest.
Three-wide into the turns didn't always work, but it was fun to watch. Drivers were intense and emotions overflowed. It looked like Smith got the racing he wanted for fans though.
Danica Patrick made her debut at Bristol Motor Speedway with her No. 10 Sprint Cup car. She started 43rd on the grid, kept her car out of trouble and stayed on the lead lap.
Things were going pretty well with her running in 20th place. On lap 434 of 500 she got punted from the rear by Regan Smith and his No. 78 Chevrolet.
An angry Patrick climbed from her car, helmet in hand and walked to the track where she shook her finger at Smith.
The Furniture Row driver stated, "It was my fault, no excuses on my end." Patrick finished 29th with her mangled car in the garage area.
Quote courtesy of official team press release.
Tony Stewart struggled in the early part of the race and found himself down a lap in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet.
Pit strategy finally got him contending for the lead despite some bumping and banging with Matt Kenseth. The two cars finally went into a slide that damaged both cars.
Stewart stood on pit road with helmet in hand and everyone knew something was going to happen.
What we didn't know was that Stewart could throw so well, and make such a direct shot on Kenseth who was driving down pit road. The helmet hit hard, dead center to the front of the No. 17.
It was one of those events that will make highlight shows for years to come.
There is a good chance he will, but not with pit road mistakes in the title run.
Earnhardt started 16th on the grid and never really contended for the win, though he did lead some laps.
Around lap 354, the driver of the No. 88 headed down pit road before it was open. He was sent to the back of the field for the restart.
Later in the race Junior was caught speeding on pit road and once again started at the back of the field. He finished the race in 12th place and remained third in the point standings.
When a driver who is in the top 10 of the point standings secures his place in the Chase, a commemorative black and yellow hat emblazoned with the 2012 logo is given out.
Three drivers have their hats after the Irwin Tools Night Race: Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Biffle remains atop the points, Johnson moved up two slots to second and Earnhardt is third in the standings.
Kasey Kahne has had a pretty strong hold on the first wild card berth by virtue of his two wins this season and 11th place in the point standings.
Kahne remains the first wild card driver, but Ryan Newman lost his hold on the second slot and fell to 15th from his 13th place position in the standings.
Newman had a rough night at Bristol that ended with a hard crash.
Kyle Busch was looking to win at Bristol where he has done so well, but the best he could do was a sixth place finish. The driver of the No. 18 has one win and is now in the second wild card spot, 13th in points.
There are several other drivers with one win besides Busch who are still within striking distance. The first one to get that second win in the next two races will likely have the second wild card slot.
Who would have thought Card Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, would still be searching for Victory Lane after the fierce battle for the title in 2011 that had him tied with the champion?
Edwards is the lead driver for RFR and pretty much the face of Ford. So much was made of where he would drive in 2012, after it was thought he would leave RFR, but he re-signed for big bucks, no doubt.
Edwards has not won a race since the third points event of the season in 2011. He has led laps at races including the Irwin Tools Night Race.
With only two chances left, is it possible Edwards will miss the Chase?
Brad Keselowski has been a hot driver recently and he was going for his third consecutive Cup win at Bristol with the Irwin Tools Night Race.
Keselowski started second on the grid with a fast car that sported a retro paint scheme that honored Hall of Fame Inductee, Rusty Wallace.
The night did not go well for the driver of the No. 2 Penske Dodge. A shot from the No. 47 car sent him sliding to the inside wall.
He finished in 30th place and dropped two slots to seventh in the point standings. The driver has three wins this season.
Fans got everything they could have wanted out of the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
From the driver introductions to songs selected by each participant, famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer asking if they were "Ready to Rumble," hard racing, wrecks, to emotional reactions, there was constant entertainment.
The reconfigured track worked well—though not the way it was intended—and drivers raced much like they did back in the day when the stands were full and tickets were hard to find.
The race was a great show and hopefully it will be repeated when the series returns in the spring.