August 25, 2011
by Chris Feeney
Imagine if you took the entire town of Memphis and packed the grandstands at Scotland County Speedway. Now take about 77 or 78 more towns the size of Memphis and plant each and every one of its citizens in the medal grandstands of a similar sized raceway in the hills of Tennessee and you have Bristol.
Thanks to the gracious efforts of a couple of friends, this sports writer had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the NASCAR spectacle known as the world's fastest half mile during its 50th anniversary celebration.
With 40-foot wide straightaways measuring 650 feet and sharp 24 to 30-degree banked corners, Bristol is a masterpiece.
I was treated to a four-day holiday in the hills that overlook the Bristol Motor Speedway. That alone was remarkable, peaking over the horizon to look down upon the mammoth stadium that surrounds the high-banked 1/2 mile oval track. The speedway loomed like a medieval castle, hosting a jousting contest with thousands of spectators in campers, tents and RV's spread out in every nook and cranny of the surrounding hillsides.
Wednesday night featured the Whelen Modified Series 150 lap race that was followed up with the nightcap of the doubleheader, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 200 truck series race.
As a casual race fan, I was treated to some NASCAR drama early on in the trip that made it easy to understand the diehards. I learned all that Kyle Busch was lacking was a black hat, as fans quickly identified him to me as the bad guy with a spattering of boos and other less flattering jeers.
He lived up to that reputation in the truck race. Early in the contest he slid up the track in front of Elliot Sadler, who did not let up off the gas. He clipped the back of Busch's truck, sending the #18 into the wall and ending Busch's night. But before he rode his black horse off into the sunset, Busch lingered on the track an extra lap or too, lying in wait for Sadler, who he took out of the race in retaliation.
Like I said before, I'm no expert, but it sure seemed like Busch wrecked himself, and then threw a baby-fit trying to take Sadler down with him.
I think that left a sour taste in a lot of fans' mouths, because two nights later, the villain made NASCAR history by winning his 50th Nationwide Series race. Not only did he set the mark for most wins in the series, he did so in the closest finish ever for the track, besting teammate Joey Logano by .019 seconds to claim his third straight win at Bristol.
How did fans react? They still booed him. One fan even launched a full adult beverage in his direction as he drove off with the checkered flag.
It appears that NASCAR's bad boy has grown accustomed to the role.
"I'm sure the fans wanted him to win," Busch said in post-race comments. "Anybody but Kyle, you know?..."
In a sport that features more than three dozen different regular drivers, all capable of winning a race on a given night, it does seem like it is easier to find one or two drivers to root against than it is to be a booster for one particular team to win every weekend.
Generally I back Carl Edwards, who hails from Missouri. Lately I've taken a liking to Trevor Bayne, a part-time Sprint Series driver, who won the Daytona 500 in just his second race to become the youngest driver (age 20) to win the prestigious race. The kid's got class, and seems to have everything in perspective. One of the highlights of my weekend was catching his pre-race comments on our radio scanner, closed out with a prayer led for all of the drivers.
Unfortunately, Bayne didn't run in Saturday night's Irwin Tools 500. I took Mark Martin in our impromptu drivers pool and that didn't work out too well for me. No one took NASCAR's hottest driver, Brad Keselowski, who ultimately took the checkered flag.
Not sure if I'll be looking for Bayne, cheering for Edwards or booing Busch, but I suspect I'll be tuned in on Sunday to watch the race at Richmond.