Bristol was wild, but we don’t need to overreact

By | March 19, 2024

It’s been over nine years since Aaron Rodgers told Green Bay Packers fans to RELAX due to the team’s slow start to the 2014 season. On Sunday night, after winning the tire war at Bristol Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart sent a clear message to the NASCAR industry and its fans.

“Don’t overreact,” Hamlin said.

Unfortunately, as it relates to the entertainment factor since it would have certainly gone viral, Hamlin didn’t spell his statement like Rodgers did. But the message was still loud and clear. The same goes for Gabehart’s follow-up to Hamlin.

“It’s not bad. It’s okay,” Gabehart said. “Stop beating Goodyear on stuff like that. They should be part of the sport and making it hard for us. I think this is the story we’re talking about should start talking.”

The Food City 500 was unexpectedly entertaining. While there were questions about what happened to the track at the end of practice and qualifying on Saturday, it is unlikely anyone could have foreseen how the race would develop.

Tire wear, resin and marbles, oh my. It wasn’t a Cup Series race that fans, drivers, engineers or crew chiefs are used to seeing. Cup Series races are, shall we say, a bit predictable, with hard tires and teams playing out every fuel run.

But there was no chance of that in Bristol. With such high tire wear, it took 40 to 50 laps for the drivers to hang on or get into trouble. A fuel run in Bristol lasts 190 laps, so the tires probably shouldn’t have given up until after 80 to 100 laps.

The theme of the race was tire management. Some drivers did better than others. And that’s where the entertainment came in, because it’s not something drivers are used to doing or seeing people figure out. NASCAR racing was more about time on the throttle and completing qualifying laps while aggressively attacking a corner, so it was new to see drivers having to balance how hard to push and slowing down the pace of the race.

“This is the first time in a long time that the driver plays a major role,” said Hamlin. “For a long time. It’s a different philosophy than we’re used to, namely that everyone is on the gas all the time and drives on the bottom, the shortest route around it. Technology was a big problem today.”

Sunday’s tire dramas were not due to failures, unlike the infamous 2008 Indianapolis race (pictured). Motorsport images

Don’t fall for the easy and often heard criticism that the tires failed. The tires certainly didn’t fail. There is a difference between tire failure, which occurs repeatedly during a race, and tire wear. Indianapolis in 2008, which many were quick to point out, was a race of tire failures. On that day, the longest run of the race lasted about 12 laps before the tires started blowing.

Sunday in Bristol was a race of tire wear, albeit drastic wear. The tires lasted, just not as long as expected or the teams had hoped. However, there is nothing wrong with tire wear and tire management races; the sport needs more. Afterwards, almost everyone seemed to agree that a tire drop is what racing needs, but for some inexplicable reason there was a lot of it in Bristol.

And that’s where the overreaction messages come in. Yes, it was different, unique and unexpected. It was fun though. It made for a race where no one screamed about dirty air and not being able to pass.

No, this was a driver’s race.

“I would rather be disciplined as a driver than have to deal with aerodynamics,” wrote Ryan Preece on X, formerly Twitter.

Hell yes. More of that. Bristol may not have been something everyone is used to seeing or understanding, but there was nothing wrong with what happened. The short songs could use more from Sunday’s show.

Who knows? Maybe one day the NASCAR industry will look back and say that what happened in Bristol wasn’t planned, but in the end it was a blessing in disguise. One of the most entertaining short track races in recent memory was not the result of the horsepower debate or a rules package, but of tire wear.

“It was fantastic,” Gabehart said. “The entire weekend was nothing that any of us expected, the driver, the crew chiefs, the engineers, the pit crew, the team, the spotter. From the moment the training was over, we had an inkling that something would be different. I think a lot of us thought that after 80, 100 laps, this place would sink in and become a little more familiar. But that didn’t happen.

“It was awesome. I don’t just say that because we won. I say that because it was fun to have to do something so unrefined. Everything about our business becomes the 16th of a round and the 10th of an air push. If you do this 7 .5 cm just maneuvers, you are perfect. It was never going to be perfect this weekend. I think that made for a fantastic show.”

So, just relax, as Rodgers would say. Or don’t overreact, as Hamlin advised. It was wild, but everyone came out the other side knowing something good had happened, even if no one knows how yet.

The story originally appeared on Racer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *