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Kyle and Kasey are hot at Bristol, and so is Denny. But what the heck is going on inside the heads of NASCAR executives?

Kyle and Kasey are hot at Bristol, and so is Denny. But what the heck is going on inside the heads of NASCAR executives?

Kyle Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne look like a good quinella for Sunday's Food City 500. But don't count out Denny Hamlin, who would like to put that NASCAR brouhaha behind him.
   That's putting it mildly.
   What's wrong with NASCAR? What's going on inside the heads of the men in Daytona who run this sport?
   NASCAR executives -- apparently in a decision ordered by CEO Brian France -- dissed this sport's hard-core fan-base, and many casual fans too, with the  $25,000 penalty on Hamlin last week.
    Now, here, drivers aren't saying much about anything, and what they do say is so Pollyanna-puffed up they could be auditioning for cartoon roles at DisneyWorld.
   Crews, on the other hand, are angry and grumpy, to say the least, about whatever NASCAR may be doing behind the curtains this month.
    NASCAR officials have been warning teams for months not to criticize anything, and Hamlin's penalty showed teams the sanctioning body is serious. Now nobody here really wants to talk to anybody about anything, except maybe the weather (cold rain is in the forecast).
    And the mood in the NASCAR garage is sullen. That's being generous.
   While drivers, with multi-million-dollar salaries, may freely kiss away huge fines, crewmen -- typically very underpaid these days, because of a huge surplus of the unemployed -- are almost frozen in fear at getting tagged by NASCAR.
    And NASCAR executives -- as USAToday's Nate Ryan pointed out so eloquently Here -- appear increasingly, and disturbingly, unable to relate to this sport's many fans. (Expect Ryan to get a call to meet with officials over that.....)
   The frightening disconnect between NASCAR-Daytona and stock car racing's fans was brought vividly to the public eye on social media Twitter and Facebook the past 10 days.
    So, instead of a bright, exciting kickoff to the 2013 season, NASCAR finds itself trying to reverse a huge PR disaster.
   Maybe one of those classic 'Hot-damn!' Bristol races can turn it all around.


   Danica Patrick: Crashed at Phoenix. Six laps down at Las Vegas. Woefully 41st in Bristol qualifying (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Certainly nobody is counting on Daytona darling Danica Patrick to make anything much happen. Since Daytona Patrick has fared poorly, and here she qualified a dismal 41st in the 43-car field. Patrick's big news -- she's not interested in going Formula 1.
   Other than dealing with huge packs of disgruntled crews and too many seemingly tranquilized drivers, little happened here Friday.
   Busch, though, had an eventful moment in practice: "I was just trying to clear him, but he kept racing me, and we made contact and spun," Busch said about a practice run-in with David Gilliland. Door to door. But it apparently didn't mess up Busch's car too much; he set a track record, 129.535 mph.
   "As  rough as the bottom is getting, and the top being smoother now, that may make the top faster than we'd expected," Busch said of the variable banking, which was three grooves wide until track owner Bruton Smith started grinding the concrete last summer after a disappointing spring 500.
   The last three weeks the Sprint Cup tour has been dogged by complaints that the new 2013 stockers aren't yet up to snuff. Daytona and Phoenix were noticeable weak shows, but in last week's Las Vegas 400 the new car did show promise.
   Still, there hasn't been a great race yet this season.
   With Bristol's reputation, this could be the first good one. However since the track was redesigned a few years ago, the classic bump-and-run to pass hasn't been part of the game here.
   How the layout will workout this time seems unclear to the teams.
   Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis outfoxed the competition last summer, until a big melee took them out.
   This time, well Kahne and Francis have been tough at all three tracks so far.
   How much pressure is there on this sport to have a good race here, a spicy event?
   Some figure there's increasing pressure as the weeks go on, considering the hype NASCAR has created around these 2013s.
   One plus is that this high-banked half-mile shouldn't test aerodynamics nearly as much as Daytona and Las Vegas.
   Another plus is the new car is lighter, by 150 pounds, and has better balance on the four tires.
   One question, though, is that the tires here are the same tires used last August, while the car itself has changed considerably, particularly in the chassis.
    Pressure to perform? Busch says nah: "We put on a good show in Vegas. Good racing throughout the field. It was a good show. So I don't think this race needs to be a savior at all."   

   Careful now, Kasey: That cell phone cost Brad Keselowski a $25,000 NASCAR fine, remember. Uh, isn't this series sponsored by Sprint? What in the world is going on inside NASCAR these days? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


I stopped coming to Bristol last season after

I stopped coming to Bristol last season after attending for years. Frankly, the racing was boring. I could always depend on exciting racing at Bristol, Talladega, and Daytona, but NASCAR has made these races parades. I don't want anyone injured, but I do like an actual "race" where somebody passes. At the last Bristol race I attended, I turned around and a woman sitting behind me was reading a book! That tells you everything you need to know about the state of racing nowadays.

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Bristol Had Actually Become Raceable Again

When Bristol went to progressive banking it made what was the worst track this side of Darlington back into a respectable racetrack again - the Southeastern 500s of 2010 and 2012 had actual battling for the lead instead of the demolition derbies the joint was producing since it went to concrete. Bruton grinding it down from 36-degree progressive banking to its present 28-degree progressive banking was a mistake.

As for NASCAR's overall efforts, it did hurt Daytona and Talladega with their stupid hatred of tandem drafting; yanking off the roof blade after 2001 - a panic move - was a colossal blunder as well because the roof blade works (shown when NASCAR brought it back for the Nationwide cars 2004-10) and NASCAR supposedly was going to phase it onto more tracks. The irony is the tandems (plus new pavement at both tracks) brought the racing back to the level of ferocity the sport needs. The sport can use the roof blade again, big time.

Danica in F1

What! Danica is not interested in going to F1? Can you imagine the heartbreak in Maranello? OK Red Bull. stop the phone calls. McLaren has just announced that if Danica won't drive for them they may quit the sport. The only happy person in the paddock is Schumy. For now his records are safe.




I have been a long time fan of racing of all sorts, being an old-time Indy car fan and a Nascar watcher. The years and controlling organizations have not been kind to either.
Nascar has become a dictator-controlled show of cookie-cutter cars, all alike. The rules are ridiculous, with lucky dogs and such taking away from skill and real racing. Nascar is boring; too much politics, like what has ruined F-1. I long for the good old days when they raced real stock cars with realistic rules. The young Frances have ruined the racing.
Thankfully there are a lot of good small tracks around with real racing.

Nascar, penalties & Bristol

Ha, so Busch doesn't think this race needs to be a "savior" because the race at Vegas was good? Hmm, well, doesn't that sound like a PC comment to you - after all if Busch had said anything else, he'd probably get fined. NASCAR has it's head so far up where the sun doesn't shine, that it has become a joke.

NASCAR absolutely DOES need to start having good races. According to a tweet I had from a writer, even bad publicity is good as far as NASCAR thinks since it brings eyeballs to the sport. Is it really? However if there doesn't start to be decent racing on a regular basis fairly quickly, I don't think that will help the sport in the long run. I have plans tomorrow afternoon and don't plan to stay home to watch the race. Once upon a time, I'd have passed up things so i didn't miss a race, especially one at Bristol. Now, with the rather poor TV broadcasts and loads of commercials, I can catch up in replay.

Danica's not going to F1, gee, that's a shame.

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