Whitesburg KY

This wasn’t the Bristol we know



Steve Mickey

I know the schedule said Bristol Motor Speedway, but what we saw Saturday night from the newly-repaved high-banked half-mile track wasn’t the Bristol we grew up with. latest edition of racing from the Tennessee track has us scratching our heads as to what happened to the “old” Bristol.

By the time the Craftsman Truck Series race was half over last Wednesday, it became very apparent the track’s new surface would produce the second and, in many cases, third groove of racing the track desperately needed. The Busch Series followed on Friday night with a ton of passing and a wild finish (even though we didn’t get to see it) that set up what many thought would be some of the best racing the speedway had produced in years.

Now this is where you are going to get two opinions on the racing the Sharpie 500 produced. From the standpoint of the drivers, it was the most fun they had ever had at the track. In the past, the fastest cars didn’t always finish up front as the track didn’t offer many opportunities for passing. Those days are now over, as passing became the norm throughout the field.

The second opinion on the track comes from the fan viewpoint and this may be somewhat biased as fans are used to the style of rough racing only Bristol could produce. Instead, they walked up the hill to the track on this August night to see race winner Carl Edwards and runner-up Kasey Kahne combine to lead 487 of the 500 laps. That kind of domination takes away from any race, but when the first caution flag doesn’t wave until lap 127 at Bristol, it has some fans looking at their ticket stubs to make sure they are at the right track.

Yes, fans love to see two drivers battling it out for the lead over the course of a race, but let’s face it, those same fans love to see drivers banging and pushing each other around for any spot on the track. That is what will keep your attention and that is what a fan expects when he walks in the gates at Bristol or turns the TV on for a broadcast from that track.

When ESPN got the rights to broadcast the night race from Bristol, you know it had to celebrate what has always been one of “the” races on the entire schedule. It had done its homework for this one, but unfortunately for both the network and the fans watching, the race didn’t produce the excitement everyone was anticipating. Watching two cars side by side for lap after lap doesn’t make for great television, and unfortunately that was what ESPN had to deliver.

If you were at the track, the show was better as you were not locked in on the same side-by-side racing; you had the option of watching the entire track and picking out the racing you wanted to follow. The racing during any contest is not always best at the front but, for whatever reason, the networks are afraid to get their cameras too far from the usual group of leaders and whatever battle Dale Jr. finds himself in.

While the speedway will receive both praise and criticism over the next months about its new surface, we must remember that the track is only part of the equation and Goodyear and the new car of tomorrow must share in some of the blame. The COT is stronger than the model it is replacing and can take more of the banging and rubbing that goes on without spinning out.

Goodyear always brings somewhat of a conservative tire to a new track and Saturday was no exception. Even before the green flag waved on Saturday, rumors had it that when the series returned next March the tire maker would bring a tire with more grip that should make the racing even better.

OK, so it’s not our “old” Bristol, but it is still the one ticket I would like to find under my Christmas tree later this year. Teams will have a better handle on the new surface next time around and the show will only get better and before long, this Bristol will become our “old” Bristol.

Race Preview – Event: Sharp Aquos 500. Track: California Speedway (2-mile Dshaped oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Sept. 2, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kasey Kahne.

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