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In the Rearview: Food City 500

March 17th, 2014 3:50 pm by Dave Ongie

In the Rearview: Food City 500

A fan puts on a poncho while waiting for Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo)

It was hard not to feel happy for Carl Edwards when the rains came and finally put a merciful end to the Food City 500 on Sunday night.

Prior to those raindrops, Edwards was facing the real possibility of having to endure a green/white/checkered finish that came about because somebody in the flagstand accidentally leaned up against the button that overrides the system and turns on the caution lights. Edwards lost a truck race in similar fashion years ago in Charlotte, and it would have been a shame to see him lose under the same scenario on Sunday seeing after he had his No. 99 Ford well out front with just over two laps to go only to have his lead erased due to operator error.

But as relieved as I was on Edwards' behalf, I couldn't help feeling for the fans who braved another brutal winter weekend in Bristol. I know they call what we just witnessed Bristol's "spring race weekend," but spring weather is rarely part of the program. And why should it be? According to the calendar, it is still winter.

Yet NASCAR, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to saddle one of its premier racetracks with a horrible date on the schedule. Here are the first five races on the Sprint Cup Series schedule: Daytona, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and California. Beach, desert, desert, mountains, desert. As they say on "Sesame Street," one of these things doesn't belong here, at least not during the volatile month of March.

If the rain that delayed the Cup race and then interrupted it for over three hours before swooping in to save NASCAR from a potentially embarrassing conclusion was the only issue, there wouldn't be much of an argument to move the first of Bristol's two dates to later in the year. Rain can rear its ugly head anywhere at just about any time, as we saw in Phoenix a couple weeks ago.

No, in the case of Bristol Motor Speedway, rain was simply the final indignity for the campers who fought off freezing temperatures most every night of the week before nearly being drowned on Sunday afternoon. Of course, many of the campers didn't stay around long enough to fight the rain. A few of my fellow scribes who arrived at the track around noon reported passing a convoy of RVs heading in the opposite direction, folks calling it quits and heading home.

Camping in the hills that surround the speedway has always been a huge part of the culture when it comes to NASCAR races at BMS. As the years have gone by, however, the campers have dwindled. Certainly the bad economy has something to do with it, as do higher fuel prices, but it's hard to argue that investing a large amount of money when the odds of cold weather are so high isn't the reason campers have been staying away from the spring race in droves.

Obviously there is a huge correlation between the decline in campers and the decline in attendance for the "spring race." People have faulted the race surface, but that hasn't kept people from flocking to the IRWIN Tools Night Race in August. Those August Cup races have been near sellouts as of late.

Despite the best efforts of the staff at BMS to provide endless entertainment options around the track, the weather in March has put the two Cup races on opposite ends of the spectrum. From the fan's perspective, the August race at BMS is a spectacle not to be missed and the March race is a crapshoot to be regarded as warily as a used car on Craigslist.

Most of the drivers who took the microphone to introduce themselves prior to Sunday's Food City 500 looked up into the grandstand and thanked the fans for sticking it out. They referred to the folks scattered throughout the metal bleachers huddled under parkas and ponchos as the best fans in the world.

I believe that's true. NASCAR fans are as loyal as they come, but they're also some of the most put-upon fans in all of sports. That has to change because loyalty has its limits. There is no reason, aside from sheer stubbornness, for NASCAR not to give one of its premier venues the chance to put on two spectacles a year instead of just one.

It's in the best interest of the fans and in the best interest of the sport. In other words, much like the final rain shower Sunday night that allowed the best car to win and allowed NASCAR to save face, a date change would be a win-win scenario.

Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at dongie@timesnews.net. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:10 on "Good Morning Tri-Cities" with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.

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