NASCAR will be stationed in Charlotte, NC for the next two weekends as the league's top drivers prepare to tame Charlotte Motor Speedway. This weekend NASCAR will feature their annual All-Star event and the track will host the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. Most teams in NASCAR have their shops located in and around the Charlotte area so this event also serves as somewhat of a homecoming.
Most professional sports hold their all-star event much later in the season but NASCAR goes against the traditional all-star grain. The Sprint Cup is just 11 races into the season and less than a third through the season, but this an all-star break nonetheless. In light of the early season pause, lets take a moment to review the first 3 months or so of Sprint Cup racing.
2012 Sprint Cup - Current Standings
1. Greg Biffle
2. Matt Kenseth (-2)
3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-14)
4. Denny Hamlin (-17)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-39)
5. Martin Truex, Jr. (-39)
7. Tony Stewart (-42)
8. Kevin Harvick (-50)
9. Kyle Busch (-62)
10. Carl Edwards (-74)
Sprint Cup Tid Bits:
Eight different drivers have made the trip down victory lane this season and 3 (Keselowski, Stewart, Hamlin) have done so twice.
Four time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is off to the worst start of his legendary career. The hall of fame driver is currently 24th in the standings and already finds himself 170 points back of leader Greg Biffle. Gordon, who did manage 1 pole award, has only placed in the top 5 once this season and has only one top ten finish outside of that. This could mark the beginning of the end for the the Rainbow Warrior.
On the opposite of the coin, fellow Hendrick driver Dale Jr. is off to his best start in years. Sitting at the third in the standings he looks poised for a great season and perhaps his first legitimate championship shot since 2003.
The Road From Here:
Life after Charlotte begins with the spring race at the "Monster Mile". Dover hosts the first of the track's annual two races on June 3rd. Then the Sprint Cup moves on to Pocono and then Michigan. Fast forward to August...
Aside from Daytona International, Bristol Motor Speedway is the most recognizable track in all of NASCAR. On August 25th it will be Bristol 2013 - Round 2. Bristol, for many fans, has historically been the most exciting race track in the country. Nowhere else can you get the rare combination of speed and precision racing.
In addition, the track owner puts you the fan in the driver's seat. After this year's spring race, track owner Bruton Smith announced that the track would undergo changes to eliminate progressive grooves. The changes come after years of outcries from the fans that Bristol had lost some of its edge as a(n) wreck-happy, aka exciting, track. The track went through resurfacing back in 2007 and many life long fans have shared their disdain since.
Track Owner Bruton Smith:
"I didn't want to create a train wreck here of what we're doing," Smith said. "I guess the best way to say it is we're modifying what we had. It's going to be a lot better than what it was. We do think we'll win all these race fans over to our side.
"We do believe we're doing the right thing, so we've got to go with that." - David Newton: ESPN.com
So it will be back to one groove racing at Bristol. Get ready for the fireworks folks. And it seems that the fans have responded positively to the news as ticket sales have tripled since the announcement in April. I'm all for safe racing but it seems the track needs a boost and more importantly the sport itself. Fifteen years ago NASCAR was one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Over the last few years the sport has suffered and it was never more apparent than this spring when Bristol barely filled half of their 160,000 seats.
It isn't clear whether the changes to Bristol will bring the fans back over the long run but it certainly seems that the vigor and excitement returns for the moment. I personally can't wait for night racing this August at Bristol for the Irwin Tools 500. Racing under the lights at Bristol is never disappointing and will most assuredly come with additional buzz this fall.
Written by: Craig Kibler