For fans who prefer racing as a contact sport, this weekend you get your wish: NASCAR at Bristol!
When you put 43 stock cars on a half-mile race track, all qualifying within tenths of a second, it's a surefire recipe for mayhem. Not only do drivers have to deal with the pure physical challenge of the g-forces generated by accelerating, braking, and turning on the high banks while turning 15-second laps, there is also the ever-present danger of getting caught up in somebody else's wreck. This weekend, tire issues have added yet another variable into the mix, with Goodyear bringing in a truckload of new right-side tires today. Spotters will have their hands full as well, helping drivers with split-second decisions and warnings of accidents ahead.
I listened in on a press conference with Roush-Fenway Ford driver Carl Edwards yesterday morning as he talked about the difficulty of coming to grips with the track. "You go into those banked turns and it pushes you down into the seat and you know you need to get on the gas, but you have to take a second to get oriented," said Edwards. He also talked about the power of the new Ford FR9 engine helping him get off the corners and down the short straights quickly. It must be doing the job, because Edwards later qualified on pole with teammate Greg Biffle alongside.
Statistically, Gibbs Racing Toyota driver Kyle Busch has the best driver rating at Bristol, a 106.0, and also has four wins at the track. This is just short of the five victories racked up by his brother Kurt and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who have the most wins of any active driver. All three have a way to go to equal Darrell Waltrip's 12 Bristol wins, or the nine victories scored each by Dale Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace, and Cale Yarborough. In an already record-setting season, we might see new records set at Bristol this weekend. The 20-year-old record for most lead changes (40) and the 22-year-old mark for number of leaders (16) could fall tomorrow, as could the record for caution flags (20), which has been reached three times. The new points system could also come into play this weekend, causing dramatic shifts in the standings. But as Carl Edwards noted in response to a question at Friday's press conference, this early in the season there is still plenty of time to recover. Later in the run-up to the Chase, and particularly during the Chase itself, one bad race could spell disaster.
There have been a few changes since I wrote about some of the goings-on in the IndyCar series last week. Tony Kanaan now has a ride for the season with KV Racing. Perhaps with Tony on board, KV can challenge Penske and Ganassi for some race wins and maybe even a championship. Also, according to IndyCar guru and gadfly Robin Miller, the announced hard and fast 26 car limit for races other than Indy and Las Vegas may be a bit squishy. Miller opines that given the current financial situation in the series, IndyCar isn't going to turn down any paying entries. So we may see 27, 28, or 29 cars on the starting grid at some races. I just hope that they all qualify fast enough to not be a hazard.
And finally, in a crossover between NASCAR and IndyCar, Ganassi Racing drivers Jamie McMurray and Scott Dixon swapped rides last week. MacMurray climbed into the cockpit of Dixon's number 9 Target car at Barber Motorsports Park and acquitted himself very well on a cold, narrow, hilly road course. Dixon then crawled into McMurray's number 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy at Talladega for some hot laps on the high banks. McMurray was impressed with the Indy car's acceleration, braking, and cornering capability, while Dixon commented on the "Dukes of Hazzard" style of entering and exiting a stock car. Dixon enjoyed his ride, but expressed a wish to run without the restrictor plate, and also to have a go at drafting, commenting that he was pretty lonely all by himself out there.