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From disbelief to unbelievable: Trucks at Bristol

August 23, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Adding Truck Series was a gamble, but it has paid off with memorable races

Wayne Auton still remembers what Ron Hornaday uttered the first time the Truck Series visited Bristol Motor Speedway in 1995.

"He walked in and stood there and kept looking up, and up, and up," the long-time series director said. "He said, 'We're going to race on that?' Then he actually went out and ran pretty good, the first time out of the box."


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bristol, we want you to upload your photos with captions of your stories from the days and nights at the World's Fastest Half-Mile.

Hornaday has won twice at the high-banked half-mile, including leading all 200 laps on his way to victory in 1997. And what seemed to be a bit of a gamble when the trucks showed up for their first Bristol race in 1995 has now turned into one of the must-see events on their schedule.

Auton said the combination of high speeds and close-quarters racing usually brings out an aggressiveness that tops a typical Truck race.

"Usually it's a 200-lap race, it's always fast, it's always quick," Auton said. "You can't sit there and ride. You've got to get to the front and stay there.

"From the old track configuration where you sort of bumped and run, to the new generation today that could be three-wide and make it all the way around the track. It's absolutely an awesome to come to."

Not every Bristol race is a classic, but there have been more than a few memorable ones. Take 1996, for instance. Rick Carelli scored his first Truck win after Mike Skinner led the first 125 laps. But it was Mike Bliss' wild ride on the concrete wall that Auton remembers.

Coming out of Turn 4 with 37 laps remaining, Hornaday tapped Bobby Gill's truck, sending Gill up the track and into Bliss, who was running next to the wall. Bliss' truck lifted off the ground and went driver-side down into the catchfence right under the flagstand.

"I think we tore down about 100 feet of fence on the frontstretch," Auton said. "That was just unbelievable. I don't know he did it or how he got up there but I was calling the race and I looked down and saw that, and I said, 'Put it out!'

"My eyes got as big as a basketball or something. We just tore down 100 feet of fence at Bristol. You're not supposed to be able to do that here."

Bliss was more angry than injured, but it did require a lengthy red flag to facilitate repairs.

One thing about a Truck race at Bristol: Don't leave early to beat the traffic. Kevin Harvick appeared to be on his way to an easy win in 2003 when he cut a tire on the next-to-last lap and slammed into the Turn 4 wall.

Instead, it was a surprised Travis Kvapil who celebrated in Victory Lane. It turned out to be his only win of the season.

"I thought we were going to have to settle for another second-place finish," Kvapil said. "We could run with Kevin. [But] he got through the lapped traffic a little better than me. That was probably experience."

Kvapil had a different perspective four years later, the first race on Bristol's new concrete surface. Kvapil had led 75 consecutive laps when Kyle Busch tried to pass him with 20 laps remaining.

Busch slid up the track, taking Kvapil with him into the wall.

"That should have never happened," Kvapil said. "I saw him down there and I wasn't worried about it, [but] he just got loose down there."

"You just go stand down in the turns and listen to them come in and get back in the throttle coming off, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck."

--WAYNE AUTON

Johnny Benson won the race, using a pit strategy that gave him fresher tires than the rest of the contenders.

The incident in 2007 only seemed to make Busch more determined to succeed. He led 145 of the 203 laps to win the following year in a race in which Jimmie Johnson made his Truck debut and led 28 laps before being involved in a crash.

Busch made it back-to-back victories in 2009, and in 2010 started at the tail end of the field after an engine change and still led more than half of the laps to become the first driver to record three Truck victories at Bristol.

It took Busch just 91 laps to get to the lead, thanks in part to a record-setting 13 cautions. Busch appeared to have things well in hand with a handful of laps remaining until David Starr hit the inside wall and bounced back into the path of Ken Schrader, setting off a multi-track accident that required a red flag.

Busch's biggest concern was fuel, so a green-white-checkered finish wasn't exactly what he had hoped for.

"It ran out of fuel on the second-to-last restart and it ran out on the last restart," Busch said. "I was worried."

Busch eventually prevailed, but just as he was taking the white flag, Matt Crafton -- on new tires -- pushed Austin Dillon to the point where Dillon lost control and touched off another chain-reaction crash. It also resulted in a bit of a pushing and shoving match between the two crews on pit road.

"They were upset," Crafton said. "I can understand why they'd be upset. The last thing I wanted to do was to wreck him."

Dillon wound up 17th and wasn't happy about it.

"Coming off the corner, he kept pushing me and pushing me. I couldn't save it," Dillon said. "There was no need to tear up a bunch of trucks like that."

But that's why short-track racing at Bristol is so unique, according to Auton.

"It's so fast, you think you're at a speedway and yet you're at a short track," Auton said. "They can rub and push and beat and bang and move.

"You just go stand down in the turns and listen to them come in and get back in the throttle coming off, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck."