Throughout its storied past, the one thing that has been a constant at Bristol Motor Speedway is that a couple times a decade a new driver comes around and lays down his claim as King.
Las Vegan Kurt Busch (9-2) is close, if not already there, to joining some of the elite drivers in NASCAR history because of his recent dominance at Bristol. The Tennessee track is the fastest half-mile oval in the world. Drivers are allowed to rip in and out of the turns at average speeds over 125 mph because of the high banking.
As a comparison, the circuit’s other half-mile track, Martinsville, has average speeds just over 90 mph. With 43 cars on the track all attempting to pass in short territory at those high speeds in a rush hour traffic type setting, it’s inevitable that tempers will flare. The speeds are still slower at Bristol than just about every other track.
Because of that, drivers don’t feel so bad about trading paint with others knowing for the most part everyone will be safe. Every driver thinks they have the right of way and the race is traditionally filled with bumpin’ and rubbin’ like no other.
With the tempers and banging going on during the race, Bristol is annually chosen the favorite track by NASCAR fans across the country. Drivers, despite their initial cries of foul after the race, also love participating in Bristol races because it really is "Racing the way it was meant to be."
Over the course of the track’s history, the past winners have been a "who’s who" of stock car racing. Those drivers have repeatedly come into Bristol and won the races in bunches. There is a common ground among all of them at Bristol. Most were former NASCAR champions with multiple wins on this track.
Fred Lorenzen won three straight from 1963 to ”˜64. David Pearson won four of six races from ”˜67 to ”˜69. Cale Yarbrough won 8 of 12 from ”˜73 to ”˜78. Darrell Waltrip won nine times from ”˜78 to ”˜84, then went to win three more later in his career. Both Rusty Wallace (8-1) and the late Dale Earnhardt won nine times each, while Jeff Gordon won four from ”˜95 to ”˜98.
With all that history established, we now roll into the present with the Busch resume that includes three wins in the past four Bristol races.
Competition is much tougher these days. There are several more competitive teams from top to bottom than used to be the case a decade ago. However, Busch has taken control of the track just like all the greats have in the past.
In a five-race stretch from 2000 to ’02, there were five different winners. That’s the first time it has happened since 1966. It appeared that both Bristol and NASCAR were starting to feel the affects of parity in this modern era, but Busch has quickly returned the track to it’s rightful status as a track that allows a certain few to tame it.
Others to watch this week include Busch’s teammate, Greg Biffle (18-1), Gordon (8-1), and Wallace (8-1). The best bet of the entire race is that there will be some fireworks between a few drivers.
Brendan off slow
Brendan Gaughan, where have you gone? It’s apparent after five races into the 2004 Cup season that Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan’s car resembles one owned more by co-car owner Doug Bawel than co-owner Roger Penske. It was thought here that Penske would have much more involvement in the team then has taken place thus far.
Part of the problem may be that Gaughan has been cautious on several occasions while he learns how to drive the heavier Cup cars. By no means is he getting the goods under the hood like Penske drivers Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace. I don’t believe there are any lessons Penske is attempting to give Gaughan by slowing him down because Newman had a rocket in every one of his races when he started.
I think it’s just a matter of time before Gaughan’s Kodak Dodge starts clicking. There’s always the age old question, "How would he do in someone else’s car?" If Gaughan jumped into Newman’s car, I don’t think the times would be much different.