Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway the long-awaited answer to just what the racing would be like after the track underwent some changes finally played out. To the surprise of everyone, it wasn’t the kind of racing that had been expected. In fact, it may have turned out to be the opposite of what speedway officials had predicted.
The “old” Bristol racing consisted of everyone trying to put their left-side tires on the inside yellow line and anyone wanting to make a pass had to put the bumper to the car in front of them. It was exciting but lately since the reconfiguration of a few years ago, the racing was two and even three wide at times. Something had to be done to get the excitement back and track offi- cials thought they had pointed the track back more toward the “old” Bristol before the green flag waved on a beautiful Saturday night in east Tennessee.
Now this may get confusing but the “new” Bristol is exactly the opposite of the “old” Bristol only in where the racing is now taking place. Instead of every car trying to get down to the inside lane and using a bumper to make a pass and in the process creating a lot of torn-up sheet metal, they are now doing the same thing up against the outside wall.
The “old” races started with the drivers scrambling to get their cars down against the bottom of the track in order not to lose any ground to the leader. If you were stuck in the outside groove in those days, you quickly found yourself moving back through the field.
Now the “new” Bristol has the same exact start only all the drivers now are trying to get their cars in that outside groove against the wall to keep from falling back in the field. Doesn’t that sound like the “old” Bristol to you, only opposite? Yeah, I agree, it can be confusing but the “new” Bristol in so many ways is just the “old” Bristol, but the racing has moved from the bottom of the track to the top.
The “old” Bristol was always so entertaining because of the drivers’ tempers that were every bit as hot as the brake rotors going into the turns. I remember Dale Jarrett throwing his helmet one day in anger and more than one finger being waved toward a fellow driver after an incident. It was what the fans loved as heated tempers seemed to always crank up the competitive level that was taking place on the track.
Saturday night, that “old” Bristol returned as there were a total of 13 caution flags on the night with many being the result of a driver’s temper getting the best of him. Tony Stewart treated us to the return of the helmet toss (would make a good Olympic sport in 2016) and Danica Patrick waved a finger (not the one that gets you fined) at another driver.
This “new” Bristol as you can see was a big step back into the direction of what made the “old” Bristol so famous. So what if it doesn’t take place down against the yellow line? The racing is the same. It is as if the emotion has returned to the track. Bristol, at least for one night, returned to a track where the winner had to be more of a survivor than anything else.
The critics will say that the 87 caution laps as a result of the 13 caution flags were too many, but the bumping that was once synonymous with Bristol created the majority of them. Those same 13 caution flags treated everyone in attendance or watching at home to some of the most thrilling restarts of the year. It was a drag race to the first turn and it was no coincidence that every leader picked to restart on the outside.
The racing may not have taken place on the track where everyone thought it would, but the result couldn’t have been any better. When they replaced those old beloved high banks with variable banking you knew the racing would never be the same, but Saturday night was a huge step back to what once made a Bristol ticket the hardest on the schedule to get.
Ticket sales for the 2013 season will once again be the bottom line on whether or not the fans liked what they saw on Saturday, but I know at least six seats they have already sold for next year as my crew can’t wait for the Food City 500 in March!
Event: AdvoCare 500
Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway
(1.5-mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN Radio: PRN
Defending Champ: Jeff Gordon