The Frontstretch: Ain't That A Shame - But Who's To Blame For Bristol? by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 27, 2007

Go to site navigation Go to article

Ain't That A Shame - But Who's To Blame For Bristol?

Full Throttle - Special Edition · Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 27, 2007


Editor’s Note : Mike Neff’s Full Throttle will be posted on Thursday this week instead of its regularly scheduled Tuesday slot. Instead, enjoy a special extra commentary from Matt McLaughlin in Mike’s place.

It seems I am in the minority about the “new” BMS – I actually enjoyed Saturday night's Cup race, a drowning voice in the face of mounting criticism against the track. What I saw throughout was a lot of two and even three wide racing, along with passing throughout the pack. Yes, two cars – the No. 9 and the No. 99 – dominated the race, but keep in mind that Matt Kenseth led 415 laps en route to his win in the 2005 Bristol night race. So, such domination is not without precedent even at the old Bristol.

Still, many fans and even some members of the media proclaimed Saturday night's race at Bristol "boring" (or worse). In fact, many feel the night race has been ruined. So what, if anything, went wrong? If we set the 1999 Bristol Night race and Dale Earnhardt's now legendary "Rattle his Cage" pass of Terry Labonte as the highwater mark, what has changed since then? Well, the cars themselves are now rid of the hideous new CoT design, the track surface was changed to parabolic banking, Goodyear bought a brand new tire to Saturday night's race, and the focus on where drivers are in the point standings has changed to the Chase, which likely loomed large with the "playoffs" only two weeks away at the beginning of the event.

Let's look at all four elements. Many drivers commented that the new Goodyears were not soft enough to allow for hard racing. I'm sure there's some truth there, because the tire test at the new track was canceled by weather. As such, Goodyear bought a very conservative tire to the track to make sure there was not a rash of tire failures, just like the debacle of the Charlotte race after the track was levigated.

Along those same lines, Goodyear has suffered some very embarrassing incidents, with tires prone to frequent blowouts that cost them a lot of face. Because of that, they now tend to be conservative. If the race is boring, that's OK…just so long as their product isn't failing left and right on nationwide TV, giving potential customers a less than rosy picture of the company's technology. Now, with a race under their belt they can probably bring a more aggressive tire to Bristol next time; that might allow for better racing. But it's hard to pin too much of the blame on the tires, because the same tires were used in Friday night's Busch race and that race was an instant classic.

I'm not ready to point a finger at the new track design. In fact, I love how it turned out. I am a big fan of side-by-side racing, and there hasn't been much of that at Bristol for a decade. It was the new track design that allowed that "fans on their feet hooting and hollering" finish on Friday night. No, we're not even going to blame the track for this one.

So, the biggest difference between Friday night's Busch race and the Saturday night Cup event were the cars. The Busch rides were old school, while Saturday's race featured those decidedly awkward, to the point of being homely, Cars of Tomorrow (by the way, Rusty, that's the correct use of the plural) with their comically oversized rear wings. Once again, the old school cars provided much better racing than the new cars. “But, Matt, the Busch cars are less powerful too,” you say. I agree. The level of horsepower has reached insane levels in the Cup series. It's time to dial that back a bit. So in my eyes, the new cars were the main culprit in why Saturday night's race paled in comparison to Friday night's, and that doesn't speak well towards what's going to happen next year when the new cars become the series’ full-time mounts.

I also have to assign a lot of the blame to the new Chase points systems. Some drivers, Gordon, Stewart, Kenseth and Hamlin are already locked into the Chase, so they could run the ragged edge with no worries. But for other drivers who could still at least mathematically be eliminated, they had to drive much more conservatively. Bristol is a dangerous place, and a small misstep can leave a driver climbing from the smoking wreckage of an irreparable car and leave him with a finish in the 40s. Among the group that couldn't get too wild Saturday night was Kurt Busch, a master of Bristol. He might have been able to get up there to challenge Kahne and Edwards if he had free reign. So, in my mind, the new points system concocted to make racing more interesting actually conspired to make Saturday's race less exciting. The Chase from its inception has been fatally flawed and that's been borne out every season it has been in place. The much hoped-for TV ratings bonanza didn't occur – in fact, ratings are actually declining. It's a time to admit this dog won't hunt and replace it.

Given a little weathering and a somewhat softer tire – the first occurring naturally and the second gradually – I think we're due for more classic races at Bristol. And if NASCAR finally drops these failed CoT monstrosities, along with the Chase, things could get even better faster. Meanwhile, if you really can't live without a constant series of wrecks, there's always the local demolition derby.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

08/27/2007 10:37 PM

I’m with you Matt (wrecking is NOT racing), except that I’d reverse numbers 3 and 4 on your list. I’d gladly accept the new car, stupid wing and all, if it meant the chase were abolished.

Sean Decker
08/28/2007 01:55 AM

I’ve read an awful lot whining about the changes NASCAR makes ruining the racing from supposedly old school fans. All I can say is “ You want some cheese with that whine. What the hell old school do you come from? 1998?

I’m 44 and I’ve been a NASCAR fan since I was about six. On top of that I’m a native of God, do I say it, California. For all you Southern by the grace of God fans out I can remember the ABC Wide World of Sports and Car and Track shows from when they were first broadcast.

Back in the day, There were no restrictor plates so Daytona and Talledega separated the men from the boys. Let me tell you Petty-Pearson duels WERE RACING! Bristol was a multi-groove race track like, hey, it is again and the cars were about the same shape as ones you could buy at your local Chevrolet, Dodge or Ford dealership. Something the COT is closer to than the old car.

Back in the day it freqently happened that one team hit the set-up and wasted the field. Fans expected it and excepted it.

My point to this rant is this: It’s time to realize and get over a few things

1.) the COT and the Chase are here to stay. (I too don’t mind the COT as much as the chase.)

2.) Wrecking isn’t racing. If your there to see the “Big One” you’re not much of a racing fan.

3.) Bristol is back to where it was in the pre-concrete days, a multi-groove race track not excuse to play bumper cars it’s been for the last 15 years or so.

4.) People that whine about the ruination of the sport ought know their history a bit better before they run their mouths lest they get called on it.

The ruination of NASCAR isn’t the COT or the Chase, it’s the loss of places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham for second dates at places like Texas and Loudon. The lost of the Southern 500 to California was wrong too. If a Californian can figure that out why can’t the rest of you.

08/28/2007 05:51 AM

I totally agree with you, Matt! People who want to see just beating, banging and wrecks aren’t real race fans in my book. Bristol was SO much better when it was asphault, so I’m happy that they finally have multiple grooves back.

Steve M.
08/28/2007 08:50 AM

My reason for saying the race at Bristol was boring had more to do with the television coverage than the actual race. I was all hyped up for the Bristol night race, like so many others. I got a good table at my local watering-hole and sat back for what I expected to be a great race. And it very well could have been if I weren’t subjected to commercials every 6 to 8 minutes. By the middle of the race, the tension in my little home-town bar could be cut like a knife every time ESPN broke race coverage to do more, and more and MORE advertising. So yes, I’m sure the race was great for those folks who were at Bristol. For the countless millions of people who had to watch it on TV, well, it was a major disappointment to say the least.

08/28/2007 09:37 AM

in my opinion (worthless as that may be to anyone but myself) the racing with the COT (at Bristol, or anywhere else) has been significantly better than it has been in recent years. I look forward to the teams getting more familiar with the car. I look forward to Goodyear bringing a better tire to tracks. I don’t blame Goodyear for bringing a conservative tire. They had valid reasons. But, they should have enough data now to bring a much softer tire next time.

I love the chase format. I still say (even with the increase) that the number of points for a win is too low. The bonus points for a win was a good idea. If you added a bunch more as a not-bonus, it would be even better. The points for a win (vs. 2nd place) need to be high enough, in the current example, for the 12 or 8 to be really pushing for wins.

I think you can easily attribute 95% of any “passivity” at bristol to the tire, and the fact that the point system still promotes “not losing” more than it promotes “winning”.

Just in case I muddled it: I’d much rather see bristol as it was this weekend, then as it has been for many years previous. Better Racing = Better.


08/28/2007 09:44 AM

Some fans are real morons and dont know what good racing is wait untill we come back here in the spring with a soft tire your going to see a record number of lead changes

Annie Mack
08/28/2007 09:52 AM

No, I don’t agree. The race was boring, the television coverage was atrocious, and the cars and tires are probably to blame. Wrecking is not racing, but the thrill of Bristol is the close racing, the bump and runs for position, and one driver not stinking up the show. The lack of yellow flags was odd and probably added more to the domination of the race than the track or the cars. However, the night race at Bristol is what I wait for every year and a ticket I covet. Watching cars run around on a conveyor belt is boring, bad television, and definitely not something I’ll pay a fortune to see in person. With the COT, the chase, the crapy tires that Goodyear has been providing, the new rule of locking in the top 35, and Nascar’s continued inconsistencies, the season has been unfortunate. I don’t agree with most of you about the new surface. And the COT stinks too. Just to add some excitement to the series, I hope AT&T buys Sprint/Nextel and kicks them to the curb. Now THAT would be a ticket worth buying. Don’t forget folks, look for the “11th Circuit Court of Appeals 500” to be added to the schedule next year.

Steve M.
08/28/2007 10:02 AM

Annie, you are a hoot..I’m lmao!!!

08/28/2007 10:52 AM

The problem, Matt, was that too much of the side-by-side racing was being done in front of the leaders by cars about to go a lap down. Not much fun watching rolling roadblocks for lap after lap.

08/28/2007 11:08 AM

The race “coverage” by ESPN is a big part of the problem. Rusty needs to stray off the corporate line and talk racing. for the majority of the Bristol race you wouldn’t have even known that Tony Stewart was in it. They spend all their time talking about and showing Jeffy G, Jimmy J and Juany Pa_blow M.

08/28/2007 12:08 PM

your high Matt! put the pipe down along with all your little followers here. You want side by side racing go to Atlanta. This is Bristol baby! and demolition derby isnt racing but it sure is fun to watch some raw emotion afterwards, but King Brian is taking care of that and turning everyone into a drone or a cardboard cutout corporate pc mouth piece. Thank god for the Tony’s and Robby’s. Side by side racin is ok but this race lacked the real rubin which IS racin at Bristol. You wanna watch a race where the drivers dont have to be tough and really have the balls, determination to win and skill with a strong car, go watch your kids race go karts and craigs cruisers. What you say? you want the horsepower reduced in Cup cars? get out of town and put the pen down. you have no business writing for motorsports. Bring back the 70’80’ and even some of the 90’s and get rid of chumps like this guy Matt.

Brian France sucks
08/28/2007 12:45 PM

The people to blame for the Bristol race are the fans. More specifically, the expectations of the fans. Wrecks and punting and the like. Having been to Bristol, this year’s night race installment was far superior to last years. Watching a bunch of cars play follow the leader isn’t fun at the local dirt track, and it isn’t fun at Bristol. Cars could run high and low, which is a far improvement on the last decade. So a couple of guys hit the setup; isn’t that what racing is about? Knocking cars out of the way is NOT racing; just ask Jeff Burton or Mark Martin; it requires no skill or tact. The new Bristol is much improved; just wait till the tires and lack of rolling the center are fixed. Now if they’d just bring back the Rock or the Southern 500…

08/28/2007 01:20 PM

I agee with this article. The difference in the race is the CoT and the Chase. With the CoT being so new, you are going to get teams that will hit the setups correctly while the rest of the field struggles. That is exactly what happened Saturday night. Add to that the new racing surface, which is usually not its best when brand new, and the Chase and you had what we got on Saturday.

Next year, I would bet that this race will be better because more teams will have a handle on the setups and the track will be more seasoned. The Chase aspect won’t change, so that will be a factor.

In any case, the ‘bump and run’ isn’t necessary for good racing. As a matter of fact, it is BETTER racing when the passing is better without it. By the way, I read a stat that there was double the passing in Saturday’s race than we saw the year before. What’s boring about that?

Ron Scott
08/28/2007 01:24 PM

Sure you can laud the side-by-side racing. I think the difference is someone who has been around the sport for years and all these new fans. The former hate the new Bristol; the latter think its great.

The problem with the new surface is THE CARS DON’T HAVE TO INTERACT. The place is like a mini-Dover where the cars can just go around and around, with so many grooves that it doesn’t matter. The old Bristol, with one basic groove, mandated that the cars had to interact since they all wanted — and needed — the same piece of real estate.

Not to sound like an old fogey, but NASCAR is going down the toilet. Cookie-cutter two-mile tracks, while the drop shorter, interesting tracks like North Wilkesboro.

The biggest improvement NASCAR could make is to reduce the end-of-the-season money and spread it out to the weekly races. Make going for the win (or position) each Sunday the most important thing, not stroking for a “good finish” to get year-end money.

08/28/2007 02:30 PM

The race wasn’t all that bad..this was, maybe still is the one race a year I love as it is what many of us were brought up on..good ol’ short track racing..most of us don’t have a 1.5 mile track around us. Sadly of course NASCAR in their wisdom feel that short tracks aren’t what sells..(even if Bristol is always a packed house..). Anyway..if I was to say there was one issue that not only hurt Bristol racing but NASCAR racing in general would be the Chase…teams are so worried about making the Chase very few are sticking their necks out to push themselves..on the flip side teams not in the Chase don’t want to be known for driving agressivly against a guy in the Chase as the end result may be knocking the guy out of the Chase. With the Chase and the top-35 rule you will never see the duels like Petty-Pearson of yesteryear..France/NASCAR has pretty much turned NASCAR into a politically-correct, vanilla-make-no-waves sport.

08/28/2007 07:32 PM

Count me in your crowd, Matt: I was blown away by the improvement in the racing at Bristol. Too many people are judging it based on the TV coverage (who’s up front + Junior + Gordon) of a single race – forgetting that there’ve been stinkers at Bristol, too, once you count out the wrecks.

The big thing to remember is that as the cars evolve, the tracks need to evolve too. The cars eventually outgrew the 24-degree asphalt Bristol, and they finally outgrew the 36-degree mixed-pavement Bristol, too. SMI seems to have a pretty good handle on the concept. Don’t you wish ISC would finally learn this lesson as well?

08/28/2007 08:40 PM

Bristol was boring, and yes there are multiple factors. I really dont care about all that. I as a fan, just want to be able to enjoy a good old school race. I like the beatin’ and a bangin’ !! Thats what Bristol has always been about…remember thats the slogan, raceing the way it ought to be ! And YES the Commentators are terrible. Good lord, I liked rubber head as a driver, but there is a reason they called him rubber head, and Petree well I loved it when he was with Dale…..Together they have the same effect on me that Lunesta does, without the cost…zzzzzzzzzzzzz. wake up Nascar, your TV ratings are going down the tubes….the racing is BORING, BRISTOL has been thee only bright spot for some of us diehards and now that appears to have gone by the wayside as well !!! MIGHT AS WELL BE ANOTHER MILE OR HALF MILE RACE !!!

08/28/2007 10:19 PM

I agree 100% with some of the fans who disagree with ya, Matt. This race was flat out boring and it’s a combination of several things. Goodyear’s horrible tire, ESPN’s coverage or lack thereof, and the new track. I miss old school racing at Bristol. You beat and bang for position and that’s the nature of the beast. It’s down and dirty let’s settle this between ourselves, not the fabricators in the shop and aero guys. It’s practically a glorified California now. But then again the new fans and corporate heads would love this!! It’s like F1 but you can pass. Team orders, Thew new CoT, resurfacing every track on the surface bc it’s a little too hard for the boys to drive…man it’s getting ridiculous anymore.

08/29/2007 12:16 AM

“Bristol=practically a glorified California now” says Hank!!!!!!!! Hahahaha. I’ve never heard a lamer opinion than Hank’s. Some people are a joke.

08/29/2007 01:35 PM

yeah because we all know you’re right and everyone’s wrong. Have fun watching boring races :-D kthxbai

08/31/2007 07:26 PM

Think racing is getting boring? Television coverage sucks? Wait till 2008 when this Piece Of Crap COT walks, not RUNS, at Daytona and Talledega. No need for restrictor plates, these barges will be running like there’s an incoming tide.