For years, Bristol Motor Speedway always produced two races that didn’t have an empty seat in the house because of the close racing that fueled plenty of hot tempers and fantastic finishes. Sadly, all of that changed in recent years for a variety of reasons.
Back in 1992, the track installed an all-concrete surface with highbanked turns that were at the very heart of the hard racing fans had become to expect any time the series rolled into Bristol. However, all of the racing and harsh east Tennessee weather wore that surface out to the point the track had to be torn up and repaved in 2007.
When the track was repaved, it was also reconfigured with variable banking in the turns. The change made the track into a one-groove racetrack that made passing very difficult. Gone was the old Bristol racing that made getting a ticket to one of the two races a must for every race fan.
After the new track was in place, the racing was never the same and Bristol could never promote the kind of racing attracted so many fans to Bristol in the first place. Soon the track began seeing attendance drop. The steady decline reached a low point in last year’s Food City 500 when there seem to be as many empty seats as there were fans. That is when the track’s owner, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith, decided to listen to the fans who expressed their displeasure. Smith opened up a website where fans could register their complaints and said that he would take whatever steps were necessary to make the track better before the race last August.
True to his word, Smith immediately began reconfiguring the track. The banking in the upper groove was reduced to the same degree as the middle of the surface. The intent was to eliminate the third groove, but what took place last August surprised everyone.
Track officials thought that the racing would take place at the bottom of the track with the middle of the track offering a second groove of racing. What took place was actually the opposite, as the preferred groove of racing was up against the outside wall and in the process the close racing and hot tempers once again returned. More than one driver lost his cool and the sight of a helmet being thrown by an angry Tony Stewart was the exclamation point on the night as every fan in attendance left saying that “Bristol” was back.
Of course, last year’s race featured a different car than the ones we will see unload Friday. This will be the fourth race for the new Gen- 6 car that NASCAR introduced at Daytona, and to be fair to the car it will also be the fourth different style of track. The new car once again proved at Las Vegas over the weekend that it has a lot of speed and a creates a tremendous amount of downforce, but it is still a work in progress.
This week at Bristol, the problems with the new car should not come into play as the factors that go into winning are not as dependent on the car as it is at other tracks. You have to race the track at Bristol and that begins on Friday with qualifying. Starting up front and earning a good pit stall pay big dividends because of the large number of caution periods. The best place to pass may still be on pit road so the pit crews’ performance will be key.
There couldn’t be a better track for the Gen-6 to make its next stop. This is the one track that doesn’t care what generation car takes the green flag. It’s all about surviving 500 laps of racing this weekend and even with a new car, it is still Bristol!
Event: Food City 500
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
(.533-mile oval, 24 degrees – 30
degreees banking in the turns)
Date: March 17, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski