By admin | August 20, 2008
By Richard Allen
The Sharpie 500 is typically one of the most anticipated events on the NASCAR schedule. Last year, however, the race did not live up to expectations.
There were few lead changes, hardly any racing back in the pack and virtually none of the close quarter action the track has become famous for.
So, what happened?
There are three possible answers to that question and they are the car, the surface or the Chase.
Last year, the race had only nine caution periods. That number was down from previous years. Typically, cautions number in the teens and even higher.
It may seem like a good thing to have more green flag laps. But, in reality, more cautions means there has been more close, competitive racing. Last year’s Sharpie 500 featured very little close racing. It more closely resembled a game of follow the leader.
That is demonstrated by the fact that two cars so completely dominated the race. Kasey Kahne led 305 laps and eventual winner Carl Edwards led 182 laps. There were only 12 lead changes in the race and most of those took place on pit stop exchanges as there was little passing on the track itself.
One possible explanation for the drop off in competition during the 2007 Sharpie 500 could be the Car of Tomorrow. Last season was the first year in which the CoT was used.
The new car has proven to be difficult to get a handle on. It is obviously more difficult to race other cars when drivers are struggling to hold on to their own cars. Without doubt, the CoT played some role in last race, or lack of a race.
Between the two races held at the Bristol Motor Speedway last year the track underwent a major resurfacing project. The racing surfacing was completely redone. But also, the track’s famous banking was altered. Instead of its standard 36 degrees the banking was graduated, meaning it is now steeper the further up the track a car goes.
This was done to encourage more side by side racing. Just the opposite is what occurred.
If the track’s new surface was the main culprit then a year of wear and weathering should help. The race held at BMS in March seemed to be more competitive so perhaps the surface is indeed improving.
The last possible element in this mix is the Chase for the Championship. After this race there are only three races remaining until the cutoff for the NASCAR playoff.
Even before the Car of Tomorrow and the track resurfacing it appeared as though there had been a change in the mindset of drivers going into this race. It has looked as if the drivers find a comfortable place to ride and lock in as many points as possible rather than going all out for a win.
Whatever the case, the race in Bristol last August did not produce the kind of action fans have come to expect. Hopefully, the 165,000 fans who pack the grandstands around the high banked track will see plenty of “Racin’ the way it oughta be” this Saturday night.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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