In just its second year, the event is already one of the most popular on the Bristol Dragway calendar. The inaugural visit caught Bristol officials off guard with traffic backed up on Highway 394. All of the seats at the facility were filled and fans were still standing several rows deep along the fence.
In fact, more people showed up for the “Street Outlaws” television taping than any one single day of the NHRA Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals.
It came after the round track at Bristol delivered the best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in recent memory from start to finish. It didn’t feature the dramatic last-lap pass, but the racing action up front and throughout the field made the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race a must-see event.
Kurt Busch held off Kyle Larson for the win and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. Younger brother Kyle Busch put on a driving exhibition that was the best part of the race. It reminded me of Darrell Waltrip’s classic line about stopping at a local business where a lady asked him, “Are you part of the racing show?” Waltrip then replied, “No, I am the show.”
Kyle Busch has that same brashness, coming out to the song “All I Do Is Win.” He didn’t win Saturday night, instead finishing 20th after a late crash. Still, his drive from nearly three laps down to second place captivated the fans — too much so for one fan, who looked to fight the driver after the race until the two were separated by BMS security.
Kyle Busch’s aggressiveness, including a crash of Martin Truex Jr., brought numerous comparisons to the late Dale Earnhardt’s driving style. And when Busch crashed after cutting a tire and smacking the wall, the crowd erupted with the loudest sound of the night.
ONE CHANGE NEEDED
Kurt Busch referred to Bristol as the “holy grail of short tracks,” and runner-up Kyle Larson said that if the Cup Series raced at Bristol every weekend, there would be no problems with television ratings or empty seats.
The racing weekend, which also saw Larson win the Xfinity Series Food City 300 and Johnny Sauter win the UNOH 200 truck race, was a big hit.
However, one problem still persists — the top groove being so dominant.
That being said, Kurt Busch made the winning pass on the bottom groove in a late-race restart against teammate Clint Bowyer.
But I feel Bristol would be best served to do as weekly short tracks and put an orange cone on the backstretch where the drivers have the option of going high or low when lining up on a restart.
The second-place driver could still start to the inside of the leader if he desired. However, he may decide to start right behind the leader. The way it is now, the second- and third-place drivers fall back on most restarts, while the driver in fourth is usually in the next advantageous position outside of the leader.
It’s a minor change that would be unique to Bristol, but one I feel would make the exciting races even more exciting.
SUPPORT WEEKLY RACING
Those who enjoyed the Bristol night race should check out the action at other local short tracks like Kingsport Speedway and Volunteer Speedway.
The action at Kingsport’s three-eighths-mile oval track this season has been phenomenal, highlighted by the featured Late Model Stock class. However on many nights, the support classes, like the Mod Street, Mod 4, Pure 4 or Pure Street, feature the best racing.
If you’re like me and tied up Friday night with football, there’s still a chance to get to the short tracks Saturday at Volunteer Speedway. The four-tenths-mile Bulls Gap dirt track hosts the $3,000-to-win Steel Head Late Model Showdown. Other races scheduled are features for the Sportsman Late Model, Modified Street, Classic and Street divisions.
HOT SUMMER NIGHTS
Johnson City riders Tyler Orfield and Madison Hensley won the Pro and Women’s races, respectively, at the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series race at I-81 Motorsports Park on Aug. 11.
Other local winners were Justin Carberry of Jonesborough (85cc Beginner), Evan Hayworth of Piney Flats (85 cc, 9-11), Hunter Ford of Church Hill (250D) and Carson Eads of Kingsport in two classes.
Runner-up finishes included those by Alton Clark of Johnson City (ATV Novice), Braeden Fletcher of Kingsport (85 cc, 12-15), Seth Fields (65 cc Unlimited), Riley Cash of Johnson City (65cc Beginner) and Laken Fields of Church Hill in two classes.
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Kingsport Times News and Johnson City Press. Contact him at [email protected]