This wasn’t vintage Bristol, but plenty of madness occurred to make it memorable

BRISTOL, Tenn — The hype didn’t match the on track action in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. Just 12 lead changes ensued which equaled the amount of playoff drivers that suffered some sort of chaos in the 500 lap event on the .533-mile Tennessee oval.

If not for the playoff chaos, this year’s edition of the Bristol night race would have been one to forget. Instead, it’s one to remember.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Thursday night got folks perked up even more than they have in the past. A one lane bottom groove race track that if you wanted to pass, you had to use the bumper. That’s the old Bristol. Would the old Bristol make a return for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race?

The new Bristol has progressive banking to where you can run multiple grooves in the corners with the high lane around the top being one of the preferred lanes.

However, fans were begging for that to go away and a return to the old way. Thursday night proved that it can happen.

The track sprayed PJ1 on the bottom and 4 feet off the bottom lane to. It’s adding grip to the low lane in hopes of making this the preferred groove.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Saturday night was far from it. The exact opposite or so to speak. The high line was the preferred line again tonight and featured a race where the bumper wasn’t once used and 12 lead changes among 6 drivers ensued.

It leads to the question again on if Bristol is in the right place on the schedule. Several drivers have warned over the last few years that a short track in the playoffs is risky because you can’t take the risk of collecting damage early and costing yourself stage points. As a result, you get some follow the leader racing.

“Then, that would be a question of ‘oh wait a minute maybe we need to move this race back to August when guys aren’t necessarily worried about points as much and let the rough edges dry,” Kurt Busch told me a year ago.” Dump somebody. Wreck some cars and not have to pay such a big points penalty.’

“That’s the difference in playoff racing in that everybody is making sure that they get every point possible. Therefore they are driving more cautiously.”

Then with the short track package badly needing some help to spice up the racing, you get a parade to where the only drama occurred due to mechanical failures.

To have just 12 lead changes and only a couple of them for on track passes for the top spot and just one real crash that wasn’t sparked by a tire going down, this wasn’t very Bristol like.

“It was pretty tough. We pitted in front of the 17, so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade,” Kevin Harvick said. “Just difficult to pass. Parted it way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”

With this new car, one part to it is an increase in tire size. That bigger tires lead to more grip in the turns and as a result, you get higher cornering speeds.

Denny Hamlin said it felt like they were going quicker in the corners than they were on the straights. With minimal tire fall off outside of the ones that blew, it just doesn’t create for very good racing.

For a short track to work, you need slower corning speeds and more tire fall off. When you get neither, it makes for a tough night.

“Had good track position from our qualifying effort but passing was just impossible,” Hamlin said. “It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point. (The Next Gen car) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues. We just battled through it and held on to a ninth place today. … We can win anywhere we go to. We’ll go to Texas and try to win like we always do. Just need to get a good, solid round going. Just seems like mechanical stuff with this Next Gen and wrecks are the X-factor in moving on so you just have to be really consistent and with five races to go, that’s when you have to start winning.”

But if not for the playoff factor, if you put this race back in August, do we see a repeat? I think you do which leads me to believe the race being in the postseason saved it.

The chaos of Austin Cindric’s comeback from being last during the race in the playoff standings to being in the same spot +2 as he was entering +2 was a sight to behold.

The cut tires, the power steering failures and the Cindric vs. Kyle Busch with Busch vs. Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot while watching 23XI Racing send out both cars to log laps and potentially pass Busch in the finishing order made the final half of this race exceptional.

Take that away?

I don’t want to know what we’re saying right now….

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