The first NASCAR driver I ever met was Bill Elliot. So it seems sort of appropriate that on this, his son's 120th cup start (from the pole position I might add), I begin a new project to document and verbose about the interesting and meaningful things that happen in NASCAR's top series that I often am left feeling are not adequately covered by the media as it is. As this is my first post, I find it necessary to say all my thoughts are my own, I seek no monetary gain, and I am not affiliated in any way with any entity within the sport.
The first story today which has far more traction than the series itself if the announced retirement of Darrell Waltrip. This past weekend, DW as most everyone who follows the series knows him, has said at 72 and with 19 years in the broadcast booth, it's time to dedicate time to family and slowing down. An emotional FS1 panel comprised of Michael Waltrip, Jamie McMurray and Larry Mcreynolds asked questions of an emotional, yet glad looking DW with the grandstand of his namesake as the backdrop explained in many ways his fond memories in the sport and his reflections on his many contributions. Sometimes when you're enjoying a sport and take the time to think of all the components that make a broadcast possible, it's often the voices that you become so used to that make the thought of enjoying it, almost impossible. What does the Fox broadcast on Spring Sunday afternoons look like in 2020? I have no idea, and right now, don't want to try to imagine it.
Major stories leading into today's race include a massive inspection issues for Kevin Harvick and the 4 team. As well as the question that is asked more often week in and week out, will Kyle Busch win?
After an early caution that saw several race favorites, Chase Elliot and Kyle Busch among others get caught up early and incur damage, control of the race seemed to be well in the hands of Fords from the Penske and Stewart-Haas camps.
At the end of the first stage, major factors for the race lead have been Blaney and Bowyer. Just before the end of the stage the caution comes out. As several of the leaders, (Penske Fords and some others) decide to pit while Bowyer and several members of the RCR group stay out.
The result was a three lap shootout for the stage 1 win. On the restart, Bowyer lines up against the usual mid-pack Germain 13 machine. Unpredictably Bowyer and Ty Dillon battle hard for three laps and while it seemed that Bowyer would take the stage Ty Dillon in a strong 13 car battle back. It's clear the Bob Germain is getting some enhanced support from RCR this season.
Once pit stops cycled through at the end of the first stage. Roger Penske's Ford Mustangs would lead the field to the green flag to start the second stage. The green flag wouldn't stay out long however because Matt Tifft in the 36 car spun around on the 36th lap of the stage. It was pretty obvious that Chase Elliot was involved in causing the caution but somehow got his lap back. Yahoo.com sports reporter Nick Bromberg explains the mystifying NASCAR mister in his article here.
As a result of the caution several competitive cars elect to pit and this provides the ever opportunistic Kyle Busch another opportunity to close his gap to the leaders. Both the 2 and the 22 get good pit stops and join the 18 for a sprint down pit road battling for track position on the restart.
Stage two continued on with some eventfulness. Jimmy Johnson sustained damage to the right rear wheel well and Daniel Hemric also lost control of his vehicle. As is the norm at Bristol, because of attrition, driving style, and frequent cautions, several drivers who don't normally get to see the top 10 enjoyed solid runs leading all the way down to the closing laps. The LFR entry piloted by Matt DiBenedetto had a stellar second stage. Bristol is a strong facility for the driver who has a career best finish here of 6th which came during his tenure with the now defunct BK Racing.
Another pleasant surprise has to be Ryan Newman. Newman who was showing clear signs of frustration at RCR in 2018 is enjoying a revitalizing 2019 as is Roush Fenway racing who has badly needed to improve performance for several years. Newman continued his good run into stage two as he battled another driver having a great day in Chris Beuscher driving the JTG Daugherty 37 car.
At lap number 250, the second stage would end uneventfully with driver Joey Logano firmly in the lead. I spent the Saturday before watching final practice with my Dad via FaceTime and we had both noted that Joey Logano looked exceptionally strong. That beast was rearing its head as the field prepared to run the final 250 laps of the event. The Penske 12 and 22 teams both boasted sheer speed on pit road and beat a competitive field back out on the track for the start of stage 3.
Although it was glaringly obvious how empty the stands were, and (in fact for the first time that I can recall), completely empty in the turns, the action on track was genuinely exciting! The Penske cars used their track position to set themselves up for a shot at the win. Others in the top 10, including the aforementioned 6 car and 37 car added to the excitement for those fans that crave diversity in the top ten. The action calmed on lap 271 for debris as Martin Truex Jr's bumper was maliciously ripped from the car as a result of being run into.
Once again on the restart, Penske cars driven by Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano resume control of the field and would continue to do so uninterrupted until 136 to go, Harvick gets a flat and this brings out the yellow flag. With 123 to go the field hits pit road and Clint Bowyer is the first one down pit road and the first one off. Kyle Busch also enjoys a strong pitstop to join Bowyer at the front to battle for the last 117 laps of the race.
The on track action on stage three would continue to be exciting and the number of lap cars stayed in the double digits most of the afternoon. The action would result in two more cautions in the closing laps and both unfortunately involving Kyle Larson. The first event also collected William Byron and the second caution Larson hit the wall as a result of a flat tire.
That final restart would happen with just 14 laps to go and a Kyle Busch who didn't lead the most laps on the day, but indeed would lead the ones that counted beat a surging Kurt Busch to the checkered flag. To which Kurt would later remark that he had planned to wreck his brother to win the race pointing out the illustrious season he's been having thus far.
My main take-away from today is that either no one wants to engage in conflict with Kyle Busch or he really is just that good. While I am not a self proclaimed Kyle Busch fan, I own very little of his brand of racing merchandise, I cannot deny his success or how dangerous and tenacious he is as a race car driver. It'll be interesting to see what happens at Richmond where it feels like just yesterday I watched him win from the stands. Overall for Nascar, I felt today was a good day. There was great racing, good action, and for themes part, the governing body and the officiating besides the Chase Elliot free pass was very good. The larger beast that Nascar can't seem to shake is the absence of fans in the stands. It's especially bad when places like Bristol that Millennials like myself would see growing up packed full of fans, sit largely empty. I still have hope that once these younger drivers develop and some consistency is reached and the price of a ticket comes way down, that gander days at the track can be had.