Crunching numbers: Old vs. new

March, 17, 2011

Did everyone enjoy the weekend off? I enjoyed a quick breather, got home to Upstate New York, caught a Jack Russell Terrier puppy that had gotten loose, participated in a fundraiser trivia night, among other things.

Strangely, the final question of the trivia night was a NASCAR one, and no, it wasn't about what the acronym NASCAR stands for. Nor was it about why the cars always turn left.

Note: I've been asked this literally hundreds of times by people who think they're being incredibly clever and funny. If you're going to ask me that, there's a quickly growing chance I'm going to smack you. I'm not a violent person, but I have my limits.

The question, under the category "Presidential Pardons," was about what offense Junior Johnson was pardoned for by President Reagan in 1986.

The answer, of course, is moonshining, for which Johnson spent 11 months in prison. How far NASCAR has come.

Of course, although somewhat separated from its roots, NASCAR gets back to its short-racing past Sunday at Bristol (I'm going to nominate that for the Seamless Transition Awards Ceremony, right after I create the Seamless Transition Awards Foundation).

There's just something awesome about Bristol Motor Speedway. When I was but a little Willis, my friends would often hang out at my house on rainy days for an afternoon on the Playstation.

And, perhaps dating myself, we're talking a Playstation 1. That's right kids, we were roughing it in the post-Nintendo Entertainment System era.

And when we fired up "NASCAR '98," or a game of that ilk, if we were running just one race, we chose Bristol for the beating and banging, and because despite the other cars on the track, you were never more than 13 seconds away from spinning your friend.

Just talking about it makes me want to fire up the Playstation 3 and take my talents to Bristol. But first, I really need to finish this blog.

Old vs. New Bristol

Bristol does have a far different look now than it did then. Although you still get your fair share of beating and banging there, the new gradual banking at the track means that the bump 'n' run is no longer the best, or only, way to make a pass.

The gradual banking leads to side-by-side racing and fewer drivers dumping one another, which largely has met with the approval of drivers and disapproval of the fans.

When the track was repaved in 2007, the differences were immediately noticeable. That year, cautions dropped from 15 to nine from the spring race to the fall, and caution laps were trimmed from 90 to 61.

In the seven races since the repave, there's been an average of nine cautions for 66 laps per race. In the seven before that, 13 cautions for 87 laps.

I don't know about you, but the more green-flag racing, the better for me. And nine cautions a race guarantees some craziness.

But the key has been in the racing itself. NASCAR began tracking green-flag passes for position in the 2005 season, and before the repave, Bristol averaged 927.6 green-flag passes a race.

In the seven since, there's been at least a thousand in every race, an average of 1,846.3, and over 2,000 in three of those seven races, including two of the last three.

So, if you decide to debate the old versus new Bristol with a friend, perhaps over a trivia night or a game of "NASCAR '98," there's some numbers to fuel your argument.

The Eliminator: Bristol Edition

1. The last 17 Bristol winners had a previous top-four finish at the track (22 drivers out, 22 remaining).
2. Of the last 13 Bristol winners, 12 had a finish of 18th or better in the last Richmond race (nine out, 13 left).
3. Of the last 10 Bristol winners, nine had a top-12 finish in the last Bristol race (five out, eight left).
4. Of the last six Bristol winners, five had a top-three finish in the previous year's Bristol race (seven out, one left).

Your winner: Kurt Busch



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