Bristol Baby! That was the cry that echoed through thunder valley in east Tennessee this weekend. It brought with it the visions of past champions and bumping and banging and smoking and choking race cars all trying to claim the prize of being the crown jewel’s favorite prince.
There would be issues with tires. There would be issues with drivers. And that was before the green flag ever dropped on a race. Racing would just bring more drama and temper flares. Why? Because it’s Bristol Baby one of the most coveted trophies on the Sprint Cup circuit and she did not disappoint.
The weekend began with what started out to be near disaster with the Goodyear tires. The track would not rubber in. The tire compound instead of rubbe[media-credit id=18 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]ring in the track and adding grip, turned to powder and gathered in the corners of the ½ mile high banked speedway. The tires were down to the cords in less than 30 laps according to some competitors. “One of the things we see here at Bristol is we see early wear,” Rick Heinrich, of Goodyear said. “Generally, the track will darken, the track will rubber in, the wear improves. And we didn’t see that normal improvement.”
NASCAR competition director Robin Pemberton, looked a lot like the championship crew chief he is when he became proactive and drew the line in the sand and said Not again. Goodyear swapped Right side tires out on Saturday for the teams of both series. The new tires were the same tires used in August of last year at Bristol.
The tire situation is, according to former series champion, Kurt Busch a result of the new car. “We’re either fine and sliding around or we’re blowing out right side [tires],” Busch said. “To me, I still think the cars are just too heavy, too high a center of gravity. And we’ve put Goodyear in a box with this [new car chassis]. It’s been like this since 2007.”
The Nationwide series qualified on the new tires and the Cup series had final practice with one set of the new right sides. There were minimum failures noted the remainder of the weekend.
The weekend’s drama was not at an end however, on the starting grid of Saturday’s Scott’s EZ Seed 300, Jennifer Jo Cobb refused to take her Ford Mustang on the track. Cobb stated that she had been told 10 minutes before the command to start engines that she would be a start and park to save the car for California. “”I have a commitment to my sponsors, my fans, NASCAR that I won’t start and park,” Cobb said. “I’m very serious about my career and my performance, and I’ve worked hard to prove it to everyone. I had already bought tires for the race, so you can imagine that this was a blow to my principles and my finances to get this news.”
Car owner of 2ndChance Motorsports, Rick Russell, told a different version of the story. Russell said “I already had my entry in for Bristol and California, and we killed our car in Vegas in a wreck,” Russell said after the race. “So only having one car, I got the thing rebuilt and we brought it up here with the intentions of staying out of trouble and running a few laps and going home with the car in one piece, so we could race next week in California.” Russell said on Saturday, that he made it plain to those at the track Friday they would not be doing anything other than starting and parking the car.
Russell said Cobb and crew chief Steve Kuykendall went behind his back to hire a crew for this race after Russell left his crew at home with the understanding the car would run only a handful of laps.
When Cobb balked at the plan to start and park the car, Russell threatened to have the car black flagged, within his rights as a team owner.
NASCAR advised Russell to remove the car from the starting grid and find a driver. He did just that and put Chris Lawson in the car. Lawson made 4 laps and returned to the car to the garage area as he was instructed.
“At that time, some of the crew tried to take parts off the car while it was sitting behind the hauler,” Russell said. “So I had the officials stop them and then they called track security and I told them I wanted a sheriff down here with warrants.”
Cobb claims that she was offered a ride for California by a NNS team owner that competes regularly before she was even out of her fire suit. Although, no announcements were made as to which team that was.
The relationship was ended publicly by both parties via social media. With ownership and driver/crew chief tweeting that the partnership was over. Accusations were hurled by both parties and the he say/she say war began and ended not only on national television but on the internet.
The whole debacle was distasteful and distracting. To air one’s differences on TV and the internet smacks of Charlie Sheen like tactics. In fact the results were the same, it made both parties and NASCAR look not only stupid but petty and immature.
First off to buy parts, pieces and tires for a car that does not belong to you is very much like renting a house installing central heating and central air and then moving and thinking you are going to take it with you. It’s not going to happen.
Second, to sign a contract with a relatively inexperienced female driver for 5 races less than a week after Danica’s schedule of the first 5 races is announced is an attempt to compete for the attention and press that female drivers seem to warrant these days. To then allow others to know you intend to fire her before her final race without telling her first is low and unprofessional.
Third, to get out of a car on the starting grid because it goes against your principles is admirable, however, you should never have gotten in it to start with. You should never have taken driver’s introductions and you should never have walked out to the grid. When you did and then refused to fire the engine and take the car to the track, start and park or not, you abandoned your position, the fans, the sport and the team that you assembled yourself.
This drama showed the entire series in a bad light and the sport as well. As if that drama wasn’t enough, another one was right around the corner with yet the other female driver in the series, Danica Patrick.
Patrick and Ryan Truex had raced one another hard for position for several laps. Both cars were laps down to the leaders and running well back in the pack.
On Lap 248, Danica Patrick’s Chevrolet tangled with the Toyota of Ryan Truex, spun and slammed nose-first into the Turn 1 wall. Patrick, who was running two laps down in 17th at the time, thought Truex moved off the front stretch wall into her racing line.
Danica’s on track response was to climb from her car after safety officials lowered her window net for her and to walk up the track and gesture to Truex as though to say what the heck.
“It felt like to me that I came out of the corner, and I was running down the straight, and I felt like he came off the wall. … I know I was running him early, and he just runs hard. He’s run hard every time I’ve been around him, and it just seems like overkill.”
Truex, admitted fault and apologized both over in car radio and post racing saying it was his fault that his car had gotten loose but it was in no way intentional.
Patrick who was running her first short track race embarrassed herself and many other women drivers with her actions. Once again, the accident was someone taking her out. Even though her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. told her on the radio “that is just the way it is. It’s Bristol.” Before she even got out of the destroyed Go Daddy Chevrolet. It was a play for attention and a tantrum much like those she is famous for in Indy Car racing.
This is not Patrick’s first tirade against another young driver since coming to NASCAR. Last year after an incident with James Beuscher, Patrick again put on a Diva like display threatening the young Beuscher with retaliation for 3 weeks.
These displays and tantrums didn’t work for Kyle Busch. They didn’t work for Kevin Harvick or Juan Pablo Montoya. And they certainly are not working for her either. Patrick has some strong skills. She has an incredible feel for the tires on the car. She has learned to control the car on super speedways and intermediate tracks. But her performances are average at best and certainly not the stuff legends are made of. Yet her attitude and demeanor all say that she views herself as better than anyone else in the series. A point of view that her finishes can not support.
One might find it easier to forgive the forays into drama and attention seeking if she would make a commitment to the sport and series. But that commitment seems the furthest thing from her mind and her skill set makes that obvious.
Finally, Ms. Patrick needs to consider that everyone is racing for position in a NASCAR race. Although I don’t follow Indy racing I would think that it would be the same there. No one is going to pull over and let her go. She is going to have to race hard to earn her spot and her respect from other drivers. These continued bouts of outrage over being raced hard are not the way to acquire that.
Kyle Busch, dominated the NNS race. He stated that the tire switch made their car very loose but that crew chief Jason Ratcliff was able to correct it quickly and give him what he needed to finish the race.
Carl Edwards made the end of the race interesting but was unable to get by the Z Line Toyota. He was followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr who over came a 2 lap deficit to finish 3rd on the lead lap in the Tax Slayer Chevrolet.
The Sprint Cup race was steady. It wasn’t as exciting as the racing we have come to expect from Bristol, but it wasn’t a snooze fest either.
Once again, Kyle Busch would take the Bristol sweep. Having won the last 5 races in a row at Bristol, he has obviously become the crown jewels new crowned prince.
Again it would be Carl Edwards in the bridesmaid role with 5 time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who led the most laps of the race, bringing home 3rd.
Strong finishes for Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick made for a very strong top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr would fall just short of a 3rd straight top 10 finish. But would have another strong run finishing in 11th. The strong finish would put him inside the top ten in points for the first time since 2008.
The excitement of Bristol gives way to California dreaming with the teams making the cross country trek once again to Fontana next week. But the echoes of thunder valley, the drama it produced, the scores that it created will not soon be forgotten. One has to know that somewhere in heaven our friend Jeff Byrd is smiling knowing that his beautiful lady is alive and well and living up to the reputation that she earned as the Crown Jewel of NASCAR.
~~~~~ *** ~~~~~
Congratulations to Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team on their sweep of Bristol once again.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.