Bristol Motor Speedway’s President Jeff Byrd should receive the NASCAR Executive of the Year Award, if there is such a thing. While empty seats and discount tickets have been the norm at most stops on the schedule this season, Bristol has defied all the odds and extended its streak of consecutive Sprint Cup Series sellouts to 55 races. The streak dates back to 1982, and if the amount of excitement the crowd displayed on Saturday night is any indication, look for that streak to continue for at least another year.
The night race has long been the most anticipated stop on the schedule, and next season while the lights will once again go back on, there will be a different title sponsor of the event.
Race sponsorships are becoming harder and harder to sign, but Byrd and his talented staff have no problem finding companies to shell out the millions of dollars that it takes to put their name on a Sprint Cup event.
Sharpie has sponsored the race since 2001, but next season Irwin Tools will have its name on one of the marquee events in all of racing.
Byrd and all of the fans of Bristol Motor Speedway know that the kind of race they will see at the inaugural Irwin Tools Night Race may well depend on the kind of battle taking place to see who makes it in the Chase field.
Saturday night the race came down between a driver trying to hang on to a spot in the field of 12, and a driver trying to fight his way back into that elite dozen.
Just the mention of the name Kyle Busch will spark some kind of reaction among race fans, but on Saturday night, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver may have put his best foot forward as he cleanly raced one of the all time fan favorites in the sport, Mark Martin, in the closing laps. The two drivers put on a show over the last four laps of the race as Martin was able to get on the inside of Busch several times, but could never make the pass.
It would have been easy for Martin to put the bumper to the rear end of Busch’s Toyota, and it would have been just as easy for Busch to not give Martin any room to make a pass attempt, but it didn’t turn out that way.
This was a simple case of two drivers showing each other respect on the track, and in return both were highly rewarded for their efforts.
Busch had been slipping in the point standings in recent weeks, and is in real danger of not making the Chase. The win moved him up two positions in the standings to 13th, only 34 points behind Matt Kenseth in 12th.
Martin’s second-place finish also paid huge dividends in the standings, as he moved up two spots to 10th with a 60-point lead over Busch.
Busch’s win was his fourth of the season, which puts him in a tie with Martin for the series lead. It is somewhat ironic that the two drivers with the most wins are having to fight for a spot in the Chase field.
If either or both make it in, they will then find themselves on top of the standings heading into the final 10 races, which will determine the championship as every win gives a driver 10 bonus points to start the Chase.
Pit notes: Saturday night was Martin’s 1,000th NASCAR series start and Bristol, as always, didn’t let a high point like that go by unnoticed. Before the start of the race, part of the 160,000 fans in attendance saluted the achievement by holding up cards acknowledging the driver’s milestone start. It was enough to bring the veteran to tears, and whether he will admit it or not, Mark has become the sentimental favorite of the fans to win the title.
Martin has posted 12 top-5 finishes in the final point standings, with four of those being runner-up finishes. He knows the pressures associated with running for the title and if he can drive his way into the Chase, he would automatically become one of the favorites to win it all after the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami.
Standing between Martin and the dream of his first-ever championship are stops at Atlanta and Richmond. The intensity will only increase Labor Day weekend at Atlanta, where a driver has to run the kind of race that will give him a chance at making the field when the green flag waves one week later on a Saturday night in Richmond.
Race Preview — Event : Pep Boys Auto 500. Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Sept. 6, 7:45 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Carl Edwards.