After resurfacing and reconfiguring Bristol Motor Speedway in 2007, Smith has watched a series of competitive, two and three-wide battles at the track he calls “The Last Great Coliseum.” Unfortunately, fan reaction to the new Bristol has been lukewarm, at best. An announced crowd of 102,000 viewed last Sunday’s “Food City 500,” with unofficial estimates pegging the 158,000-seat grandstands to be only half-full.
|Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith|
SMI surveyed fans to gauge reaction to the new, tamer Bristol Motor Speedway, and 70-percent of respondents said they want the old, beat-and-bang Bristol to return. By midweek, Smith was speaking openly of giving his showplace short track yet another face lift, spending more than a million dollars to return the track to its former glory.
The question is, will it work?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said this week that Smith should talk to him and his fellow drivers before calling in the excavators, saying a simple resurfacing will not solve the track’s problems. “He should talk to the drivers… about what made (the old Bristol) work, what they liked about that,” said Earnhardt. “There were some things about that track that I liked. One of the reasons it was so good was because the yellow line was about a foot off the apron. They actually sealed underneath that yellow line, and that provided grip for the left-front tire.”
|Biffle: "Can't wave a magic wand."|
Ford driver Greg Biffle cautioned that returning “Thunder Valley” to its former glory may not be as simple as Smith wants to believe. “To put it back like it was is very, very difficult,” he said. “I don’t know how you would even do that. You can change the track, sure, and make it different. But you’re not just going to wave the (magic) wand or hire the excavating crew and say, ‘Come put it back like it was…’”
Both Biffle and Earnhardt said a softer Goodyear tire with quicker fall-off would improve racing at Bristol, without the expense of a million-dollar track rebuild.
Biffle’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, said SMI actually did too good a job resurfacing the track in 2007. “They did such a good job making all three grooves the same speed that it truly is difficult to pass,” said Edwards. “On paper, everything looked like it was going to be perfect. (But) they got it too perfect, because a guy can run the same speed on the top lane as the bottom.
“When there was only one fast groove, if you got an advantage and (had) that groove, then you could pass a guy. It was actually easier to pass the other way.”
“I worry about if Bruton Smith spends all that money to go back to the old track, and it doesn’t work out,” said Edwards. “But it’s his money, and it might work. Bruton's made a lot of things work.”
|Keselowski fears "ulterior motives."|
Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski, who won Sunday’s “Food City 500” to run his Bristol winning streak to two in a row, said many of his fellow drivers’ comments reflect what’s best for them and their respective teams, rather than what’s best for the sport. “The whole reconfiguration story doesn’t go very far with me,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s irresponsible, misinformed and… self-serving for any driver or media member to go out there and criticize the track. I don’t think it’s right.
“I think there are drivers that struggle there… and have ulterior motives to point at the surface reconfiguration, instead of their own teams’ performance. I don’t think that it’s an informed opinion when you look at it objectively.”
Will Bruton Smith give Bristol Motor Speedway another face lift? No one knows for sure. A promised Friday announcement never happened, as the SMI chairman continues to mull his options. No matter what he ultimately decides, however, three-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart says he and his team will approach the track the same way.
“We will work on it like we always do and figure out what we have to do to set our cars up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. We race at different tracks all across the country.”