Bristol Motor Speedway President Jeff Byrd knows a thing or two about the fans of his speedway. They all are passionate about their racing and they have a deep attraction to the track’s high-banked turns. It’s that loyalty to both the sport and the track that made Sunday’s Food City 500 the 54th consecutive sell-out.
This one wasn’t easy as the last tickets were not sold until Saturday, but you have to give Byrd and his staff a ton of credit for being able to put the sold-out label on the race. His staff seemed to be everywhere during the weekend making sure that everything went off like clockwork and that every fan was having an enjoyable experience.
While Sunday’s race was no doubt the high point of the weekend, those lucky enough to attend the events the day before were treated to something that was truly special. The 300-lap Nationwide race provided plenty of action as Kevin Harvick won his first-ever race while driving for his own race team, and much to the delight of the thousands of fans in attendance there was also the somewhat traditional melt down of Kyle Busch immediately after the race was over.
All of that turned into a warmup act as immediately following the waving of that checkered flag, the clock was turned back for the track’s “Saturday Night Special” legends race. The race featured drivers Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Harry Gant. Sterling Marlin held off Rusty Wallace for the win, but the real story was 70- year-old L.D. Ottinger who worked his way through the field to finish third.
The race was just another way that Bristol gives back to its fans. It gave the fans a little more bang for their buck and went a long way in showing just how much the track appreciates the thousands of fans that show up twice a year.
PIT NOTES: The season may only be five races old, but if you had to come up with a surprise driver of the year it would definitely have to be A.J. Allmendinger. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver entered the season having to qualify for the first five races as the team wasn’t locked in by means of finishing the ’08 season in the top 35 in owner’s points.
Having to qualify wasn’t the only problem that Allmendinger and his team faced as the season opened, the team was also facing a very limited schedule due to a lack of sponsorship. While not all of the team’s problems have been solved, Allmendinger and his crew have taken care of the racing side of the business. Bristol was the fifth race this season that he raced his way into by his qualifying efforts and once in the field, he has shown that he and his team are not just there to ensure a full field of cars.
His 16th-place finish on Sunday was good enough to move him up four spots in the standings to 16th — only 52 points from being in the top 12. More important from being so close to the top 12 is that when he unloads this weekend at Martinsville, he and his team will not have the pressure of having to drive their way into the race. He now has the security of being locked into the starting field each week as long as he can keep his car inside the top 35.
When the season started, Petty had enough sponsorship sold on Allmendinger’s car for him to run nine races with the first eight to run consecutively beginning with Daytona and ending with the Phoenix race. The additional race on the original schedule is in July at Daytona. Petty has now added five more races to the team’s schedule including Talladega, Richmond, Darlington, and Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. The team will also be competing in the All-Star race at Lowe’s. The added races will allow the team to compete through the end of May.
Mark Martin seems as happy as he has ever been behind the wheel of a stock car and maybe that is why the rumors have already started circulating that he will be coming back full time to Hendrick Motorsports next season. He hasn’t got the start he envisioned in this, his first full-time season with Hendrick, as his sixth-place finish at Bristol moved him up three spots to 31st in the standings. He now trails the 12th spot by 249 points but there is something about Martin that makes you believe he still can make the Chase. There is still plenty of racing with 21 races left before the field for the Chase is set.
Race Preview — Event: Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500.
Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526 oval with 12 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: March 29, 1:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: D enny Hamlin.