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Cup Notes: A Softening Ticket?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 19 2010

Empty seats have not been a problem at Bristol in a very long time. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Bristol, Tenn. – Even mighty Bristol Motor Speedway is feeling the wrath of the Great Recession.

Thunder Valley has long been considered the toughest ticket in NASCAR. But Sunday’s Food City 500 isn’t sold out.

Veteran driver Jeff Burton admitted on Friday that the sport is in the midst of the worst economic climate during his career.

“There was a time when we had a tough year,” Burton said. “We had the number of cars, down, and we had the number of people in the seats, down. But it lasted for a shorter period of time than this has lasted. This economy has been this way it is for a period of time and no one sees major signs of improvement.

“It costs money to do this, no matter what part of it you’re doing. Anytime that money starts getting looked at hard, when it costs money, stuff gets eliminated. So people are having to make hard decisions to not come to the race track.

But Burton believes NASCAR will be well-positioned when the economy rebounds.

“What I feel good about is I think our sport is strong,” he said. “I think our sport is full of competitive people. And long term, I feel good about the success we can have.”

Feud Fever: As drivers faced the media Friday morning, they were grilled with questions over the Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski incident in Atlanta earlier this month.

Their well-documented feud has been created a lot of buzz within the sport.

Richard Childress Racing driver Clint Bowyer is just relieved that no one was injured after Keselowski’s car became airborne.

“They say any news is good news, but that could have been bad,” Bowyer said. “That’s the thing. That’s a different kind of news. That’s a different kind of news altogether.

“We’re just extremely lucky that it wasn’t bad and that we weren’t taking about other things. We’ve just got to learn from that mistake, all of us as a group, and handle it accordingly and go on. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to learn from it and go on.”

Too Far Out?: Edwards was more than 150 laps behind the leaders when he wrecked Keselowski in the Kobalt Tools 500.

With so little to gain in the championship chase, should Edwards’ car have been permitted to return to the track?

“That’s been a discussion all along,” Greg Biffle said. “But the other thing that you have to keep in mind is the sponsor viewership. 3M wants their car on the race track, and if we get in a wreck on lap two and it takes us 40 laps to fix it, and we just put it in the trailer and go home, the Biffle fans, the 3M fans – the 3M corporate – doesn’t get to see their car going around, whether it’s 150 laps down or not.”

“The other thing that we’ve talked about is cut the points off at 30 or 35 so you don’t go back to the garage and do this mad thrash and get a car on the track with bearer bond flying off of it and metal is falling off of it. It’s unsafe. It’s leaking whatever. It’s too slow and can’t get up to minimum speed.

“The theory is don’t give any points for going back out. Cut it off at that level, so you get the same amount of points whether you go on the track or not. We get back out there for the one spot we’re going to gain on position, so that is a good point and that is a discussion that may go somewhere in the future.”

No Favoritism: Was NASCAR too lenient on Edwards by placing him on probation for three races?

According to Burton, Edwards’ popularity had little to with the ruling.

“The day that I feel that NASCAR makes decisions based on someone’s popularity will be the day that I walk into (the media center) and tell you that I feel that and will be the day that I walk out of the gate and go find something else to do,” Burton said.

“If I don’t feel like I have a fair shot because I’m not as popular as somebody else, then I just need to go do something different.”

Pit Problems: Bristol’s two pit roads can create havoc during pit stops. Under yellow, drivers must navigate both pit roads when pitting.

But during green flag stops, drivers are only required to enter the pit road where their pit stall is located.

Bowyer said he’s never been guilty of creeping along both pit roads at 35 miles per hour during a green flag stop.

“No, but I’ve seen the sport’s greats do it and you learn from it when one of the best drivers in the sport has a mistake like that,” he said. “You see it and you’re like ‘if he can do it, anybody can do it.’”

“It is tricky. There’s so much going on. You get out there and your head’s in it. You’re trying to pass the car in front of you or trying to figure out where you can gain grip or trying to figure out what you need to do to get your car faster so you can keep up.

“It’s easy to slip up and make that mistake. Certainly, that’s one of the things that can bite you in a big way.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 19 2010
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