BRISTOL — Just when some thought the new Bristol was getting boring, the old half-mile reared its ugly head again.
While former winners Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth dueled for the Food City 500 race title on Sunday, which Keselowski claimed, favorites entering the race such as Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon were victims of in-race drama.
A driver-spotter mistake involving Kasey Kahne created a big one that collected some of the track’s heavyweights just 22 laps in, including Busch, Edwards and Kevin Harvick — collectively owners of eight Cup victories at the track.
Kahne was racing Regan Smith out of turn four when his spotter ill-advised a clear move to the top of the track. Kahne eased onto Smith along the front stretch, taking contact and a bump that sent the 5 car sideways and loose into turn one and Edwards, creating a pile-up that involved Marcus Ambrose, Busch and Harvick in an old-school interstate straight-line slobberknocker.
“I think Regan was battling with that same thing we all battle with here which is should you let the guy go or keep racing him,” Edwards said. “Kasey probably thought he was clear and that ended up in a wreck. It is hard to put 43 cars on a half-mile going this fast and not wreck. It is too bad it happened this early.”
For Kahne, who had one of the fastest cars in the weekend’s practice sessions and was poised to challenge for the win, it was his third accident in four races this season.
“We were going forward, just taking our time,” Kahne said. “Regan was pretty slow. I was under him for a couple of laps. When my spotter cleared me in the center, I just took off and he was there on exit.
“This is the worst way I could start a season. To have the fastest car every single week and something happens.”
Gordon, who had a top-five car for much of the afternoon, had his day spoiled on a side-by-side run with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
On lap 360, the tail pipes on the right side of Junior’s 88 cut into the left rear tire of the 24 on a slight bump along the backstretch, sending Gordon spinning into the wall between turns three and four.
“We bumped more than we should have,” Gordon said. “We definitely didn’t hit in the right location. We didn’t hit that hard. … I know that it wasn’t intentional, but it certainly ruined our day. There were times when we had the best car out there and I think we could’ve got there by the end of the day.”
Reigning Cup champ Tony Stewart, another former BMS victor, reshuffled the field on lap 479 when a tire led to his collision with the wall in turn three.
And Junior, a 2004 Bristol winner in his own right, caught the bug himself entering pit road too fast following Stewart’s accident sending a car that was in the top-ten all day to a 15th place finish.
The in-race drama made the race extra special for Keselowski, who said that the race was one of the best he’s ever been in.
“There was some good beating and banging, some wrecking, a lot of side-by-side action, some three wides,” Keselowski said. “Short of a 30-car wreck every damn week, I don’t know what else to ask for? … I think those that don’t like the new Bristol are missing out on something great. I think they’ll look back and regret it 10, 12 years from now.”
Biffle holds onto lead
Pole sitter Greg Biffle maintained his Sprint Cup points lead for a second week after a 13th place finish.
Biffle, who lost his only previous Cup points lead one week in, fought a tight race car for much of the day.
“It wasn’t bad,” Biffle said. “We were back and forth, but there at the end I don’t know what happened. It hadn’t been like that all day, just way, way too tight. We were way too tight at the end and we were plowing down on the splitter. It was all I could do.”
Harvick fought back for a finish of 11th to hold onto second position in the points. Kenseth jumped from fifth to third, while Martin Truex Jr. jumped four spots to fourth.
Denny Hamlin and Earnhardt each lost two positions, slipping to fifth and sixth, with Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Paul Menard winding out the top-ten through the fourth race.
Attendance low, again
With an announced crowd of just over 102,000, attendance for the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway dipped again.
A venue that can seat 160,000, the track looked empty in spots, particularly during the television presentation, making the half-mile lose some of its luster. But the race winner, Keselowski, said that people shouldn’t point to the number as a problem with the track but rather a shift in the fan base.
“I don’t necessarily agree with everybody wants to label (the low attendance) as a problem,” Keselowski said. “I think the attitudes and trends of the fanbase has changed. There’s so much access provided between social media and television and you guys (print and electronic media) … live spectator events, it’s tough to sell tickets to.
“If you look at the amount of NASCAR that’s consumed during the week – it’s pretty damn high. It’s just consumed in different ways, more than ever. There’s still a lot of interest in the sport, it’s just hard to sell tickets. People say I remember five years ago when (the crowd) was whatever. I remember when gas prices five years ago were a lot cheaper too. It’s a different world.”