Bristol Reconfiguration Update – Part Three

This article is a follow up to two previous blogs about Bristol’s Reconfiguration Updates – Part One and Part Two concerning track changes Bruton Smith made leading up to the speedway’s August event – Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. 

Bristol Motor Speedway.Photo – ESPN

Earlier this year Bristol Motor Speedway  chairman and majority owner, Bruton Smith, took feedback from fans after seeing so many empty seats at the Spring race. The estimated attendance was 102,000 at a track that can hold up to 165,000. After hearing tons of feedback and suggestions from fans, Bruton Smith decided to make a change to the track surface configuration. 

It should be noted that Smith did not take any feedback from drivers as Bruton’s main goal was to sell more tickets to fans. Smith decided to grind down the top groove at Bristol taking away one to two inches of banking from the top lane.

Before cars hit the Bristol track this past weekend a few drivers took part in a tire test in June. Drivers included Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Clint Boywer summed up what fans could expect at the Bristol night race after he took part in the tire test, “That outside line – the upper groove – is out of play now.” But no one expected what we saw this past weekend, including the drivers.

Coming into this weekend everyone expected drivers to prefer the bottom groove, creating racing similar to what fans saw before the repave in 2007. 

It was clear after watching the Truck and Nationwide races before Saturday night, the middle groove was the preferred lane making it nearly impossible to pass on the bottom. That middle groove turned into the top groove by Saturday night. What was suppose to be a groove that no one could race on, became a groove that you had to run on if you wanted to pass and be fast. As the Sprint Cup race went on, cars drove higher and higher through the turns until they ran right against the wall. It became the only lane that allowed drivers to pass. In short, the top groove became the bottom groove that fans came to see ten years ago.

Stewart and Kenseth tangle for the lead.Photo – ESPN

With the top groove becoming the preferred lane, drivers bumped and banged for track position. This brought back memories, reminiscent of racing we saw ten years ago when drivers raced for the preferred bottom groove. A great example of this last night was when Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth wrecked racing for the lead. Both drivers were running for the lead and the same real estate – the high groove – which eventually led to a wreck taking them both out of contention for a win.

Last night’s action brought back many memories to NASCAR fans of the old Bristol, when people loved watching drivers fight over track position. Drivers were just fighting over a different track position – the top groove. Bruton Smith’s changes did bring back much of the action fans were missing after the repave in 2007, but it came in a way no one was expecting.

Did the track changes work? 

The large majority of fans polled on my Twitter account – @NASCARInformer – said they loved the race and wouldn’t change the track following last night’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol. Fans said they enjoyed the beating and banging, the close racing, the tempers and, more importantly, the racing they loved at Bristol before the 2007 repave. Bruton Smith did meet his goal of creating the kind of racing that fans wanted to see; it just came in a way no one expected. Bruton Smith got lucky. 

The turn out for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol was an estimated 145,000 fans. That is 43,000 more than the Spring race. Expect attendance to improve,  with fans once again excited about the racing at Bristol. There was a buzz around last night’s race and it was the feeling that Bristol is special again.

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