By admin | June 14, 2012
By Richard Allen
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup series returns to the Bristol Motor Speedway in August, fans and drivers will not experience the ‘old’ Bristol nor will the experience the ‘new’ Bristol either. The ‘revised’ Bristol will be somewhat of a combination of the two.
In 2007, officials from Speedway Motorsports, Inc.(owners of BMS) decided to resurface the aging concrete track and at the same time reconfigure the high banked facility as well. The result of reduced and progressive banking was a more driver friendly racetrack but one fans seemed to lose interest in. That has been evident in attendance figures, particularly for the races held in the spring, since the resurfacing of five years ago.
After this year’s March race in which half the seats in the 160,000 seat stadium appeared to be empty, SMI chairman Bruton Smith announced that a change would be made. So, crews immediately went to work at grinding down the top groove of the track to essentially remove the effect of progressive banking and make the track more of a two lane racing surface.
In its pre-2007 configuration, the ‘old’ BMS was essentially a one groove track with drivers running right on the bottom of the 36 degree banks. Now, the banking will be more uniform from top to bottom but won’t be nearly as steep as it once was. The desired result will be for cars to move away from the high groove and be more compacted in the two lower lanes.
It won’t be the ‘old’ Bristol but it won’t be the three grooved ‘new’ Bristol where cars rarely came in contact with each other either.
“Well, you’ve definitely lost the top groove,” declared defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. “Guys who run up there aren’t going to be able to do that because it’s pretty slick up there. There’s going to be less room to race, that’s for sure. We’ve gone from a three-groove track to two grooves and any time you’ve got less room to get around it can get pretty interesting.”
Stewart was part of a mid-week tire test conducted by Goodyear to find the right rubber compound for the augmented surface.
“That outside line – the upper groove – is out of play now,” Clint Bowyer said after participating in the tire test. “There’s going to be a lot closer racing than we’ve had here in the past. I don’t typically run up there, but a lot of guys do and I can’t see them going up there now. If they do… it’s pretty slippery and they’ll figure that out in a hurry.
“The closer we have to race just means something’s going to happen. Is it going to make fans happy? Well, narrowing up the track means less room to get around so there’s no question there’s going to be closer action.”
With the track’s pre-2007 layout, cautions were plenteous. On some occasions the number of yellow flags reached into the mid-teens or higher and caution laps sometimes went over 100. However, after the track was reconfigured, the number of cautions dropped dramatically as a result of drivers having more room to race, and thus, coming in contact less often. While the racing may have actually been better in the post-2007 layout, the track had ceased to produced the hot-tempered action fans had grown accustomed to on the half-mile.
Hopefully, the ‘revised’ Bristol will produced close, fender banging action among the competitors but with fewer pile-ups to create those long stints under caution. The true test of whether fans approve, however, likely won’t come until next spring. The August race, which is run under the lights in the heat of summer, typically has a party atmosphere attached to it which is as much a part of the Bristol experience as the racing itself. The spring race, contested in the daytime with less predictable weather, is more about the racing than the party.
Another driver to take part in the tire test was Jeff Burton. If the veteran driver was right when he said, “I think it is going to force everyone more to the middle and bottom of the track. The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space,” then Bristol may have struck a perfect balance of creating more fan friendly action while providing drivers with something other than a one groove racetrack.
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