To race or not to race... The longest Bristol event in NASCAR history

It took nine hours from the scheduled start time to the actual conclusion to complete the 511-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol.

Twice after the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway passed the halfway point last weekend, it rained. The powers that be had the option to throw in the towel, call the race and let that be the end of it. Instead, they embarked on a seemingly futile crusade to finish the race.

They did everything within their power to ensure that the loyal fans who sat through pouring rain and numerous red flags for nine hours were able to watch the green-flag finish they paid to see. When the rains returned as we prepared for a GWC, everyone knew it would be the final nail in the coffin. Only two laps, roughly 30 seconds of racing remained. No way would officials continue to fight the weather in an effort to finish it. 

A final effort

As the field, now filled with mangled cars made its way down the wet pit road as the skies spit down upon Thunder Valley, it looked very much like a story we had read many times before. The race was about to be called. Instead of victorious crew members dancing in the rain though, most were bemused to hear the percussive sound of jet driers firing up. Or maybe that was the thunder creeping ever-so closer to the track?

As the jet driers returned to the high banks of the concrete half-mileeveryone anxiously waited some more. On social media, fans and media alike were split into two contingents. Those who wanted NASCAR to put this race out of its misery and others who wanted to see a proper end to this day-long saga.

In what became more of a statement to Mother Nature than anything else, they went onward with the dubious task of drying the track and getting the remaining cars out there for a proper sprint to the finish. After four rain delays, a number of multi-car accidents, and nine hours of waiting, it was done, the checkered flag had flown. At 511 laps, the longest Bristol race in NASCAR history was over and Matt Kenseth was triumphant over all.

The right call?

Once we get past the feeling of accomplishment and the tacit victory the sport had earned over the weather, real questions slowly emerged, much like weepers from under the walls at BMS. Why did we ride around under caution for so long, a decision that cost Austin Dillon his best-career finish and a potential shot at victory? Why did officials work so hard to get 30 seconds of racing in with dangerous storms on the way? Seemed a bit superfluous to some watchers. Should the nobility of wanting to finish a race properly supersede the safety of everyone at the track?

My opinion on all this is simple, they did the best job they could do at the time with the sole goal of finishing the race. Because of that, I applaud them.

They attempted to balance a plethora of factors, trying desperately to get the race in on Sunday, hoping to reach the checkered flag on a green race track. With this (see below image) arriving in Bristol soon after, it was certainly a risky decision, but a warranted one.

Beside the fact that the fans who paid to be there deserve to see a true finish, the drivers also deserved one last shot at it with a win meaning so much in this new championship format ... You win and you're in, as they say.

The reason drivers coasted around for so long was likely due to the fear of losing the track if they stopped. Or maybe there's people up in the tower who buy into Darrell Waltrip's 'Vortex Theory.' The fact of the matter is that the race was completed, in its entirety, everyone got home safe, and most importantly, we put on a great show for Steve Byrnes, who passed away two days later. 

We went the distance, and as stated in his final tweet, so did Steve. 

Be part of something big

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Series NASCAR Cup
Article type Analysis