NASCAR visits Bristol this weekend, and the California Cup drivers have their work cut out for them by the looks of qualifying. Jimmie Johnson settles in for a fourth place start, while Casey Mears, with Keyed Up Motorsports, will make a 2010 season debut in the Bristol on Sunday.
David Gilliland (Riverside) will start 16th, while A.J. Allmendinger (Los Gatos) and Scott Speed (Manteca) will start in 23rd and 29th respectively.
Towards the rear of the field, a trio of Southern California Cup drivers will take the green. Robby Gordon (Orange) starts in 32nd, Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield) follows Gordon in the running order, with Mears (Bakersfield) making the field in 34th.
Johnson (El Cajon), who is not strong at Bristol, was the only driver of the seven to get a top-10 starting spot. Johnson noted, “I am very proud of the effort today. We came with a plan. We made the car better. We followed our plan and have a good qualifying effort.”
The rhythm of Bristol?
Johnson addressed his struggles at Bristol, “There’s just a certain rhythm here that has not fit my style. And I have been in the same cars as Jeff (Gordon); identical set-ups. We’ve been here back when we could test. He’s driven my car and went a lot faster.”
Johnson remains optimistic. “I have continued to work on it. The last two races here I’ve felt very competitive. I seem to still struggle in qualifying, but I feel we can get that under control this year.”
Harvick approached the question of rhythm at Bristol by comparing the track of the past with the repaved surface. “It is very different. The style of racing is very different from what it was before the new configuration because now you can really run from the bottom to the top and you see a lot less caution flags. The track is very smooth. Before it was very much a rhythm-type race track.. It’s still a rhythm-type race track, but you have options as far as where you go in the corner and those types of things.”
While Bristol is notorious for a beating and banging style of racing, Tony Stewart put both Bristol’s reputation and the recent Edwards/Keselowski showdown in perspective. “What we did before, you were racing but you were spending more time passing guys by knocking them out of the way. To me that’s not racing.”
“Yeah, if you’re on the last lap and you’re behind a guy and you’ve got to nudge him a little bit to get a shot at it…At least now you have the opportunity and the track is configured to where at least we can race and we have an option about where we’re going to go. We have a chance to move around and pass guys without having to knock them out of the way.”
In what may be the most appropos comment since Atlanta, Stewart commented about getting beyond beating and banging. “If people don’t like that; I mean I’m not sure they really are fans for the right reasons and/or drivers who have the right intentions.”
The evolution of racing gives hope to Johnson’s challengers
Stewart went on to address the nature of Johnson’s dominance and the window for a run at the Champion’s title. “The variable that people don’t take into account is that the technology changes every week and it’s not something that’s huge and noticeable but things constantly get better. You’ve got engineers and dynos and wind tunnels and simulation programs and all that stuff that changes week to week…what we’re doing now will be totally different four or five months from now when we get ready for the Chase.”
“[A]s the sport evolves and set-ups change, you have to change with it and that’s something the No. 48 team has been really good of being able to adapt to and a lot of teams that can adapt to it,” Stewart continued.
Acknowledging the role of luck in a team’s success, Stewart commented, “As good as they (the 48 team) are, they’ve still had a lot of luck go their way too. Today’s a perfect example. He (Jimmie Johnson) spun off of Turn 4 (during practice) and didn’t hit anything. Part of that is because he’s so talented. So you have to be good but you’ve got to have some luck on your side at the same time because there’s a lot more there that can go wrong than can go right.”
For more information on Southern California Motorsports, check out:
- Celebrity drivers announced for Long Beach grand Prix charity event
- Preview ride of the San Felipe 250 with Robby Gordon (video)
- SCORE racing continues this weekend in San Felipe
- NASCAR 2010 preview (part two): California’s NASCAR drivers represent current state of the sport
Janelle Jalbert is a fan of a variety of racing formats and equally enjoys the history of the sport. Janelle grew up in an auto mechanic’s family and swears that there is carb spray running through her veins. She can be reached via email for both comments and story ideas. You can follow Janelle as the Southern California Motorsports Examiner on Twitter as @SoCalMotorsport.
Janelle also serves as the NASCAR Truck Series Examiner. Feel free to join the discussion about the hard racing in the CWTS at the NASCAR Truck Series Examiner fan page on Facebook.