NASCAR Road Trip: Las Vegas to Bristol

Our racing expert understands NASCAR isn’t the most popular, but there’s more to the sport than driving in circles. 

“NASCAR?  All they do is drive in circles!” That’s the response I get from practically everyone who finds out I am a huge fan of the sport.  It has never been my modus operandi to try and convert an unbeliever.  I appreciate those who take the same approach as my good friend Will, who says, “Some people knit.”  Meaning that it may not be for me, but if it’s a harmless activity, then who am I to stop you from enjoying it?

My thing is NASCAR.  I spend each race glued to the TV and my laptop, with one ear on the broadcast and the other on drivers’ in-car radio.  The best man at my wedding incorporated this behavior into his speech, just to make sure my wife knew who (or what) she was marrying.  Thankfully she did, and graciously concedes Sunday afternoons year-round for NASCAR and football.  When kids start coming along, I know I won’t be so lucky.  Hopefully by the time they can talk, I will have deviated ever-so-slightly from said M.O. and convinced them of sports’ superiority to Sponge Bob and Blue’s Clues.

While I must admit that yes, they do drive in circles, the varying rate and ease with which they do so is the key to understanding NASCAR’s appeal.  Case in point: the first four races of the 2012 Cup Series schedule.  Daytona featured high speeds, big packs, huge wrecks (and fireballs) and constant jockeying for position.  The following week at Phoenix, the pole-winning speed fell almost 50 mph, the tightest pack was formed with the green flag on lap 1, the largest accident involved three cars, and I could count on one hand how many positions changed on each lap.  Las Vegas was a mix of the two.  Speeds climbed above 200 on the straightaways, but unlike Daytona, the turns quickly dropped speeds below 180.  Cautions usually consisted of one car spinning out or cutting a tire, and positions changed with a similar frequency to Phoenix.

But going from Las Vegas to Bristol is equivalent to a resident of America’s heartland, where roads were built for cars, is forced to live on the East Coast where some roads are barely wide enough for the horse and carriage for which they were designed.  On-track real estate will be at an ultimate premium this weekend.  They certainly don’t call it “Thunder Valley” because of any unique weather patterns around the track.

Mark Martin, widely considered the gentleman of the garage, currently sits in 10th place in the driver standings, but he will be nowhere near the half mile in the heart of Tennessee on Sunday because he can’t stand the intense nature of the race.  Usually the 500 after the name of the race refers to the mileage the drivers will cover by the end of the day.  This weekend, it refers to how many laps will be run.  It may be a grueling race, but it’s an absolute a fan-favorite.  While other tracks cover up portions of the stands to make them seem less empty, Bristol nearly sells out each time NASCAR swings by.

Unlike other sports with standard dimensions for each field, court or rink which are necessary for providing a relatively equal probability for any given team to win on any given night, part of auto racing’s excitement is derived from the inequality of each track.  A dream of mine is to see a race at each track on the Cup Series tour.  Like baseball’s Wrigley or Fenway, Bristol Motor Speedway is a cathedral in NASCAR and one I can’t wait to see in person.

From rolling dice to rolling hills:
I think I jinxed the Busch brothers last week picking them both to post top-10 finishes.  It was the first time in NASCAR history that brothers… hailing from the city in which the race took place… did synchronized spins… five laps apart.  Part of me wants to do it again.

Maybe I can do the same thing with Tony Stewart and help him toward my prediction of having an off year.  He’s starting to make me eat my words already.

Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne have started off the year at a snail’s pace.  Can they turn it around at Bristol, one of their better tracks?

Pick: Greg Biffle – 22/1

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