NASCAR Back To Business At Bristol

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This week NASCAR‘s Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series teams reconvene at Bristol Motor Speedway after an ill-timed break in the schedule. After three successive weekends producing three different winners the momentum of one of the best starts to a season has been lost to some degree by the unfortunate break.

There are plenty of drivers eager to get back on track and start putting some solid performances together. One DNF each has hurt Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton who are mired in the points table between 29th and 32nd places. Ok, so they are just three races into a 36 race season but it is by race twenty-six at Richmond that the twelve drivers for The Chase to the championship are set and those four drivers are upwards of 34 points away from that crucial twelfth spot in the table, currently occupied by “five time” himself, Jimmie Johnson.

Under the new points system those four drivers are going to have to finish between one and two places ahead of the no. 48 car in every race to claw their way back into championship contention. Of course any of the drivers currently in the top twelve could have some misfortune themselves to restore some balance to the table but until that happens those vital dozen places are going to have to be fought for among the nineteen or twenty drivers who all really ought to be in The Chase on merit.

Juts outside the top twelve at the moment are Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. Busch chose to spend his weekend off holidaying in Mexico with his new wife, Samantha, and so entrusted the no. 18 Toyota truck to Kahne in the Camping World Truck Series race at Darlington last weekend. That was Kahne’s fourth truck race since 2004. His tally? Three wins and one second place. He won handsomely at the South Carolina track they say is too tough to tame and in the process ensured Busch was top of the table in the Owners Points table.

Meanwhile Kyle’s big brother, Kurt Busch decided to try his hand once again at NHRA Drag Racing, this time in the Pro Stock category, pitching himself against top class, full time professionals. His Sprint Cup sponsors, Dodge and Shell Oil, backed his effort and helped create what could well be one of the best looking race cars ever. Busch fluffed his first attempts at qualifying but got his act together just in time to run a 6.532 secs at 211.46 mph and achieve his goal of making the elimination rounds, twelfth out of sixteen.

In the first of the elimination rounds he was up against Erica Enders who first started drag racing when she was eight and now has nineteen seasons behind her. Busch went out with 6.541 secs and 211.59 mph, just 0.003 secs and 0.10 mph shy of Enders time and speed and could walk away with his head held high.

“What’s amazing is (the difference in the race is) just three-hundredths [it was actually three-thousandths!]of a second; in this game of drag racing, that puts you back on the trailer,” Busch sad. “This is a tough sport. I have much more respect after showing up here in Gainesville [Florida] and doing all of the test runs. I wish I had more time to do NHRA racing. This is a lot of fun.”

Kurt Busch wasn’t the only full time NASCAR driver to try something different though. On Wednesday Jamie Mc Murray drove Scott Dixon‘s Target Honda Indy Car around the Barber Motorsports Park situated east of Birmingham, Alabama. As it was the actual race car Dixon intends racing at St Petersburg on March 27th McMurray had to be fairly restrained as he got used to the single seater, not that the restraint prevented him from spinning the car, albeit at a slow, 30 mph corner.

Indycar driver Scott Dixon coaches McMurray sitting in the cockpit of the TCGR open-wheeler

McMurray was taken aback by the acceleration of the 650 bhp Honda compared to his 850 bhp Sprint Cup car but such is the difference between the weight of the two. He was also impressed with the braking power and pure grip but was the first to admit that he didn’t really have the confidence to explore either anywhere near their limits for fear of crashing.

From the Barber track the pair then went a short way east on the I-20 to Talladega where Dixon got a chance to run some laps around the SuperSpeedway in McMurray’s Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. Dixon found the toughest thing to get used to was getting into a car in the “Dukes of Hazzard” style, through the window opening. As Talladega is a restrictor plate track he didn’t get to sample the full power of a Sprint Cup car and also missed having someone else on track with him to try his hand at drafting.

Dixon was struck by the sheer size of the Speedway, saying he had previously thought Indianapolis was impressive but Talladega is altogether a larger place, and the angle of the banking which, at 33 degrees is considerably steeper than, say, the Texas Motor Speedway which, at 24 degrees, is the steepest the Indy Cars race on.

But it is time for them all to get back to the day job. Bristol is a particularly unique track, a few feet longer than half a mile and banked at each end, it is called by some The Cereal Bowl. As veteran Ken Schrader said this week, your car will get damaged there, all you need is to be sure whatever you hit is travelling at about the same angle and direction as you are.

Kyle Busch has to start as favourite for this race, remember Bristol is where he entered the record books last August as the first and so far only driver to win all three national races, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks Series in the same weekend. But Carl Edwards is on a high coming off his win a fortnight ago at Las Vegas and knowing he had the car to win the other two season opening races. Watch out too for Jimmie Johnson who, despite being in the top twelve in the table has not had the most convincing of starts to the year and could do with a good result to stamp his authority on the field.

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