The Frontstretch: Old Bristol Threatens New Problems for Nationwide Series Racing by Bryan Davis Keith -- Thursday March 22, 2012

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Old Bristol Threatens New Problems for Nationwide Series Racing

Nuts for Nationwide · Bryan Davis Keith · Thursday March 22, 2012

 

Bruton Smith has spoken. Embarrassed by a second consecutive springtime of seeing his motorsports coliseum in Bristol, Tennessee dogged by attendance that made the grandstands look comparable to an XFL game, the man responsible for effectively killing North Wilkesboro, levigating Charlotte and effectively starting a war with the Kentucky Department of Transportation last summer has now announced that Bristol’s being reconfigured for the second time in five years. Come summer, Bristol will be back to being a one-grooved race track. Goodbye side-by-side racing, hello crashfest. Anyone that read 5 Points earlier this week knows full well this is not a move this writer is pleased about.

Still, the paying fans have spoken. And while SMI’s fan polling suggests that doing that may well fill up grandstands for BMS’ notorious night race later this summer, the good news is seemingly confined to the Cup Series. Because there’s no doubting that a return to the old Bristol means that cautions, incidents, damage, are all going to rise. One-groove at 160 mph entering a corner is a recipe for a mess.

A return to the old Bristol configuration is going to subject a lot more Nationwide Series race cars to incidents such as these.

That may not be a big deal for the Cup ranks, but for the Nationwide guys, the Truck guys and every other level of racing that tackles Bristol without having a literal armada of replacement cars and personnel back at the shop to repair/replace damaged vehicles, this has trouble written all over it.

Take a look at the caution flag stats from old vs. new Bristol. Prior to the reconfiguration, Nationwide Series races at Bristol were averaging at least 13 cautions a race. Upon adding progressive banking, the first race for the NNS regulars on the new surface produced 12. In the fall, 11.

Since that first year, the average Bristol race has been slowed by yellows only 7-8 times a race. This past weekend, that number was at four, the lowest since 1992.

This does not suggest boring racing. Sure, it may mean a reduction in the fireworks that make every Bristol highlight reel, from Ward Burton throwing gloves to even the great Dale Earnhardt being harshly booed for wrecking Terry Labonte. But for whatever reason, they don’t make highlight reels of drivers setting up passes and making them, of drivers battling side-by-side, of cars that come home in one piece. There’s one side of the story that obviously wasn’t being considered when Bruton’s latest renovation project came to the forefront, being able to race at Bristol and bring home a car that will roll onto the hauler.

Because that’s the real issue for any team out there running on less than Cup money. Take a look at the Nationwide Series entry list and it’s hard to find many teams that can just shrug off tearing up a race car. Unsponsored teams, teams with a limited stable of cars, they’re not going to benefit from this renovation of the Bristol Motor Speedway when they return to Tennessee in August.

Scan the Nationwide Series schedule right now. Between the three plate races and three road course races, already nearly 20% of the season schedule consists of demolition derbies. Not to mention that Bristol falls on the calendar directly after Watkins Glen and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, a road course that over the past few seasons has proven just as treacherous to race cars as anything Daytona and Talladega have to offer.

There’s also the element of driver development taking a hit as a result of this move back to follow-the-leader bullring from a track that actually facilitated passing. With the exception of open-wheelers making the transition to stock cars, the vast majority of drivers working their way up development ladders come from one-groove short tracks. They already know how to bump drivers out of the way to win. Where development comes in is learning to set up passes, and to do so over the lengthy duration of NASCAR’s touring series races. Scratch Bristol from that list.

Side-by-side racing is going to the wayside. Races run as much as 50% under yellow are going to be the norm again. The Nationwide Series and their already stretched-thin roster of teams has to circle two more race dates in red as events where the car may not be coming home…and now have three such dates in a row to boot.

And all of this to theoretically restore luster to the Bristol Cup races. All of this despite the fact that the Bristol night race has been significantly tamer since the first Chase season in 2004, and that the economy has inevitably deterred fan participation in a race weekend with a well-earned reputation for being among the most expensive on the schedule.

Besides, it’s not like the Nationwide Series teams are going to see a purse increase if ticket sales go up. Nope, this is another one of those suck-it-up and take it moments for NASCAR’s AAA, popular move or not.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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Dennis
03/23/2012 01:18 PM
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I’m looking forward to the old configuration. It was fun to see people use the chrome horn and if that didn’t work, root them out of the way. It’s not like every bump or root resulted in a wreck. It usually resulted in being moved up out of the groove and maybe having trouble finding a spot to get back down into the low groove. Yes, there are some wrecks. And, yes, there are a lot of caution laps. That’s the price paid for a race that produces drama like no other.

SHOEMAN
03/23/2012 03:08 PM
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I for 1 am glad about the upcoming reconfiguration of the track. I hope see a race at “THE WORLD’S FASTEST HALF MILE TRACK” in the near future. And I don’t want to be bored.

SB
03/23/2012 03:49 PM
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I guess the ‘new’ race fans have forgotten (or never knew), that stock car racing started on short tracks, where beating and banging were the norm. If you want side by side racing with lots of room, you should be in heaven this week at Fontana. And at just about 75% of the other tracks on the circuit. What is the big deal about leaving Bristol as a unique track? Do we really want or need yet another track that races much like all the others? What Bristol gave fans was intensity…something sorely lacking these days. Yes, Bristol is expensive, but the economy wasn’t thriving for all 55 of those sellouts in previous years, so you can’t blame that…it’s been that way for years. And the fact that Nascar and TV advertise Bristol as the ‘old’ style racing to get people to watch says something, too.

DoninAjax
03/23/2012 03:50 PM
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If you want to see a real race at Bristol go see the Modifieds. Real race cars are on the track, not the Car of Terror and its mini version NNS hybrid.

chrism17
03/23/2012 04:02 PM
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Bristol used to be a must watch race and then they neutered it. I am really glad they are going back.

Scott
03/23/2012 05:15 PM
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Bristol will never be the same. This car, and teams not being able to do anything different and the fact that this race is just before the start of “The Chase” are just as big of factors of why Bristol has become a normal race. These cars all run about the same speed now, teams cannot do things to make thier car better like they could before. “The Chase” makes team scared to go for it anymore they just want to survive this race. Go to a Formula One style points system and I bet you will see people go back to fighting for spots and it will also allow teams to retire when a car is wrecked since if you are not in a Points position you have no reason to be out there. Oh and lets get rid of the Top 35 rule as well! If you can’t qualify then you don’t race!

Walt B
03/23/2012 07:59 PM
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Why not just turn it into a figure eight track?

Moe Foe
03/24/2012 02:41 PM
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The trouble with taking a poll is that you generally only get the ones with an agenda to vote. Sorta like school/fire/EMS levies…only those with a vested interest vote on the issue. Bruton shouldn’t take the fan’s vote as the deciding factor. In fact, he shouldn’t take it as anything other than a good publicity stunt.

Dale Jr has piped in, saying they should talk to the drivers before they do anything stupid. Greg Biffle says tires would do more to improve it than repaving. I believe that, if given time, the racing will improve as the track weathers in. It’s always a couple of years wear before a track gets racy again.

it truly don’t matter what you think. NASCAR has no say in the matter, the drivers have no input, and certainly you don’t either. Only Bruton and his henchmen that will determine what, if anything, gets done. Remember Charlotte, friends. It’s truly about the noise and Mr Smith hasn’t decided one way or the other.

Bad Wolf
03/25/2012 02:27 AM
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Moe Foe, did you see the empty stands? There’s your poll.

Bill
03/25/2012 07:00 AM
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Why not just ask what Rick Hendrick and Chad want Bristol to be? After all, if they’re not happy they can just take it to one John Middlebrook and get it changed in a favorable way.

And we thought Chicago politics was corrupt?

Sherri T
03/26/2012 02:12 PM
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I couldn’t say it better than SB (above). Those folks in the “lower ranks” of NASCAR have had to learn on short tracks and those that learn to take care of their equipment will still be better off. Who needs the same type of race as every other weekend? Bristol is different and that’s what’s made it great in the past!