I have been going to Bristol for longer than I want to remember and still every time I walk on to the speedway’s property there is something that amazes me. Bristol has always been proud of its claim as being the world’s fastest halfmile speedway, but this weekend it took it to another level.
It was the first trip to Bristol’s all-concrete racing surface for the new Gen-6 car and rumors of just how fast the new car would go on those high-banked turns proved to be the truth. Kyle Busch sat on the pole with a record-breaking lap of 14.813 seconds for a speed of 129.535 miles per hour. He broke the record set by Ryan Newman of 128.709 mph in the spring of 2003. The first three qualifiers, including Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin, also broke the old record.
Friday’s recording-setting qualifying session only added to the reputation of the new Gen-6 as being a very fast race car. The same concerns over the car about how it would handle in a crowd and in making a pass didn’t really come into play at Bristol as a car’s aero package has little to do with the outcome.
Besides the obvious increased speed of the new model, it is the actual look of the car that really jumps off the track. Sitting in the stands, you no longer have any problem when it comes to picking out the individual manufacturer. They not only made the front ends look what they have in their showrooms, but also the individual features of the rear bumpers and their distinctive side body panels.
One added feature of the new Gen-6 that may only come into play on the short tracks of Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond is the different bumpers that the cars now have. The cars that were used last year all had bumpers that lined up with each other. This year the different-shaped bumpers actually make the old short track move of “bump and run” a little easier. This move was used throughout the field on Sunday with the lead car being able to stay under control after receiving a bump in the rear.
This weekend when the series heads west to Auto Club Speedway in California, the Gen-6 will once again come under the microscope. The track’s two-mile oval in the past has been a track where track position is everything as passing can be very difficult. This is the kind of track where NASCAR hopes the new car will eventually create side-by-side racing, but that may still be several races away as the car is definitely a work in progress.
This is one of the tracks that can produce a fuel mileage race as the sight of the caution flag is not common and long stretches of green flag racing is the norm. When that happens, usually the most passing takes place on pit road which will put a premium not only on the pit crews but also on crew chiefs who might have to roll the dice on not just whether to pit or not but to also make a tough call on how many tires to change.
PIT NOTES: After only four races of a 36-race schedule, there are several drivers who made the Chase last season who now find themselves having to dig out after having some problems to start the new season.
Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart all have had some problems to start the new season, but still are just one good race from being back in the mix for one of the 12 Chase spots that moves a driver into the championship round of 10 races.
Kenseth is only one point from the 12th spot and has a win on the season but he also has posted two DNF’s in the first four races. Harvick is 6 points back from the 12th spot, thanks to only one top- 10 finish and a DNF. Jeff Gordon looked like he was going to win at Bristol only to cut a tire down late in the race that put his car into the outside wall. He finished 34th, dropping him to 21st in the points, 14 points from the top-12.
Tony Stewart’s 31st place finish at Bristol left him in 24th in the points, 19 from being in the top-12.
Event: Auto Club 400
Track: Auto Club Speedway (2.0
mile D-shaped oval, 14 degrees of
banking in the turns)
Date: March 24, 3 p.m.
Defending Champion: Tony