Did 'New, Improved' Bristol Live Up to the Hype, and Should It Be in the Chase?
Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE
Reporters aren't supposed to have or play favorites, but I must admit: Bristol Motor Speedway has long held a special place in my heart. It is, without question, one of my favorite sports venues (and I don't mean just racetracks) in the world.
In fact, I've gone so far as to write or say numerous times over the years how much I'd like to see BMS become part of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That is, until Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race at BMS. After watching that race, it became very clear to me why NASCAR has yet to slot Bristol into the Chase, as well as why that should never happen.
Much of my decision stems from the changes that were made to the track between last spring's race there and last night's race, including cutting down the grade of the banking at the top of the track by more than two degrees (trust me, two degrees may not seem like much, but at a high-banked venue like Bristol where the banking is over 30 degrees, two degrees really is a big deal).
Fans wanted to see closer racing, they wanted to see competition much like what we used to see on the "old" Bristol: that is, the kind of track and racing we had before Bristol was resurfaced and reconfigured over four years ago.
So track owner Bruton Smith gave fans what they wanted by cutting down the top of the banking slightly. Did it REALLY make that much of a difference? I think the jury will be out on that for a while, probably at least for another two or three races.
But here's where my change of heart about putting Bristol into the Chase came about. As I watched the race play on, as well as the more than a dozen caution flags and some of the heated crashes that occurred (particularly between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth) for some odd reason, Jack Roush suddenly popped in my mind.
So, as I'm once again wondering why Bristol isn't in the Chase (and other short tracks like New Hampshire, Martinsville and Phoenix are) I heard Roush's voice talking about one of his favorite topics whenever we get into the Chase: that of the proverbial "mulligan."
For those of you who may be new to the sport or have somehow missed out on at least a few of Jack's diatribes, the long-time motorsports mogul has long advocated having at least one "mulligan" race within the Chase. Where, in effect, the worst result of a driver in the 10-race Chase is thrown out and not counted towards their points total accumulated in the Chase.
In other words, if Carl Edwards were to stink it up in, say, the Chase opener at Chicago in three weeks, if NASCAR indeed instituted a mulligan system, Edwards' result would not count in the standings, yet at the same time would allow him to keep alive his chances to still win the Chase.
It's the old addition-by-subtraction theory.
But if we were to put Bristol into the Chase equation, and given how crazy the racing typically is there (or, at least it was there up until the reconfiguration four years ago)- it would present the perfect scenario for a mandatory mulligan for just about anyone.
Do you see how bad this would be for the sport, for the fans and for the overall championship? How many observers would criticize an eventual champion who might not otherwise have won the title had it not been for a mulligan gained in the Chase.
Think about this: if the mulligan system had been in place already during the eight previous editions of the Chase, I'd be willing to bet that Jimmie Johnson would not have won five Sprint Cup titles in a row.
Over the years, we've talked about places like Martinsville and New Hampshire being so-called wild card tracks, where anything can (and usually does) happen. Crazy racing, banzai moves, win at all costs mentality...that sort of thing.
But more often than not, the end result of the style of that kind of racing typically winds up resulting in a boring, caution-filled race that cuts into the continued hopes of Chase advancement for some drivers.
We've seen it time and time again over the previous eight editions of the Chase, where drivers have a bad race and their chances of essentially staying in the chase within the Chase are all but through from that point on. But everyone understands that risk and accepts it and races even despite it. As the saying goes, "that's racin'."
But if we were to have both Bristol and the mulligan system in the Chase, how much more mayhem and craziness would we see as a result? Sure, there likely would be some very exciting crash-bang-boom action on the track, but would it ultimately be good and really competitive racing?
Many people I've either talked to or received emails from over the years have raised other similar questions like, A) Why isn't there a road course in the Chase? (Because it has the potential of being an even crazier wild-card event than Bristol and which would potentially impugn the integrity of the Chase) Or, B) how can they have a restrictor-plate race, which is the ultimate wild card event, in the Chase (Talladega), yet not a place like Bristol?
Saturday night's race was a perfect example why. And if the racing at Bristol continues to revert back to the racing of old (in other words, pre-2008 Bristol, just like the fans want and Smith capitulated to making them happy) we're going to see even crazier racing going forward over the next few years at BMS. That's great in the build up to the Chase, but it really has no place in the Chase, either.
So as much as I love Bristol, it truly is in the best place on the schedule as it is currently. The Chase is crazy enough itself, what with the twists and turns and drama that occur over its 10 weeks.
The very last thing I'd want to see is a Sprint Cup championship decided by a crazy outcome at the track that has been the king of crazy outcomes for so many years (and Saturday night was yet another example) or the type of track that would give fans the last thing they and the sport needs: mulligans.
Of course, I have to admit, I would love to see Tony Stewart throw a few more helmets during the Chase like he did Saturday, but that's a different column for a different day.
What are your thoughts? Was the racing better at Bristol Saturday after the cutting off two degrees of banking? Does the "new, improved" Bristol belong in the Chase? And do you like or hate the idea of drivers having a mulligan in the Chase?
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