Saturday night, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had their first scheduled night race of the year. Yes, the Daytona 500 was run at night this year, but that was only because of rain the day prior, and the time needed to dry the track meant a move to under the lights. At the end of a rather quick, and frankly boring, 500-mile event, Greg Biffle was the one taking a victory lap.
End of the weekend for the sport, right? Not this time. Truth be told, the real story was happening the next day.
The Camping World Truck Series on a normal weekend is usually the first race to be run, whether it is at the same track as the Cup and Nationwide Series or not. However, with the Saturday night race, it provided a unique opportunity for a stand-alone weekend, and it did so at a new venue for them, but not to the sport.
It was the North Carolina Motor Speedway that hosted the event, which has earned the nickname of “The Rock.” The track last hosted a NASCAR event in 2004, one where the realignment of the schedule began. The following year, Rockingham lost all its races. Up until 2004, it hosted two events, and historically was the second race on the schedule following Daytona. Since then, the track has been dormant with NASCAR competition.
New owner Andy Hillenburg, who raced in NASCAR for many years, purchased the track years ago and revamped everything about it. He hosted some racing events, but longed to get the big sport back to the track.
Finally, he approached Camping World Truck Series officials to bring them to the track, just to see if they would go for it. Last year, despite losing Darlington on the schedule, another historical track was added. Rockingham finally got the chance to plant some new NASCAR roots to go with it’s rich history.
The last race at The Rock saw Kasey Kahne go to a photo finish to winner Matt Kenseth, but in it’s history, the track has seen memories that are strong, but others that in a way were overshadowed.
Who could ever forget the 2001 race that began on Sunday, under dark skies and heavy hearts. It was the first race that the Cup Series had without Dale Earnhardt, and the black and silver colors were everywhere honoring his memory. The first lap saw his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr, wreck in of all places, the third turn. A rough week for the young man ended with a very early trip to the trailer. Eventually, the race was red-flagged and postponed to the next day because of rain, and in retrospect it was best because everyone was still emotional.
But that race still resonates because the next day, it was the first man that Dale Earnhardt hired to drive for him that brought home victory. It was Steve Park holding off Bobby Labonte for his second Cup victory, one that he highlighted by holding a No. 3 hat out the window to honor his fallen owner.
Now, NASCAR has returned. Yes, it wasn’t the Cup guys, but the fact that NASCAR returned to a historic track that is deep in the heart of NASCAR country could lead to something more. It was a great crowd, the welcome the teams had entering the speedway, and the many thanks given to Hillenburg and everyone at the track was very well recognized.
Only time will tell whether Sprint Cup competition will return to Rockingham, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
RESULTS: 1-Biffle 2-Johnson 3-Martin 4-Gordon 5-Kenseth 6-Truex Jr 7-Kahne 8-Edwards 9-Harvick 10-Earnhardt Jr.
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Kyle Busch 12-Hamlin 21-Newman 24-Stewart
CAUTIONS: 2 for 10 laps. Lap 68-71 (Debris), 95-100 (Debris).
LEAD CHANGES: 18 among 7 drivers. Truex Jr 1-31, Biffle 32-45, Kenseth 46, Ambrose 47, Biffle 48-68, Truex Jr 69-71, Biffle 72-81, Kenseth 82-95, Biffle 96, Ragan 97, Truex Jr 98-100, Biffle 101-112, Johnson 113-146, Biffle 147, Truex Jr 148-179, Johnson 180-282, Gordon 283-284, Johnson 285-303, Biffle 304-334.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 7 Mins, 12 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 160.577 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 3.235 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Biffle, 273 points; 2. Kenseth, -19; 3. Earnhardt Jr, -19; 4. Truex Jr, -20; 5. Harvick, -24; 6. Hamlin, -31; 7. Stewart, -39; 8. Johnson, -40; 9. Newman, -48; 10. Bowyer, -54; 11. Edwards, -58; 12. Menard, -81.