NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Will Bristol Changes Live Up to the Hype?

Less than four months removed from Bruton Smith’s announcement and subsequent implementation of changes intended to narrow the racing groove, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway following fan outcry that resulted in wholesale changes to the track surface. After suffering from dismal attendance for the March race, Smith insisted the weather kept many fans away rather than the lack of on track action. However, the overwhelming majority of fan comments said differently.

“The race fans have spoken. We had input that included a wide range of opinions,” Smith said. “But the majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made. I’d say it’s about 75% from the race fans that they’d like to see us put it back the way it was five years ago.”

A month later, the “official announcement” detailing the track’s plan to narrow the racing groove in an attempt to make passing more difficult.

“The majority of fans we heard from said they wanted adjustments made and the bulk of those said the progressive banking was what they didn’t like,” Smith said in late April when he detailed the changes being made. “So, that’s the focus of our efforts. And that is what we are working to change.”

But one driver in particular voiced his displeasure to the “Bristol Herald Courier’s Allen Gregory last month.”:http://www2.tricities.com/sports/2012/jul/24/3/motorsports-todd-bodine-not-happy-changes-bms-layo-ar-2078391/

“To be quite honest I was pretty disappointed with the whole process, Bodine said. “I’m not going to say they ruined things because this is Bristol and it’s always going to have great racing–but to take that outside groove away wasn’t the answer. The answer was for Goodyear to fix the tire.”

“The left side tires have always been way too hard here, and that’s for any race that you watch. That’s what ruined the racing here,” Bodine continued. “It would have been a simple fix to work with the tires and get the side-by-side racing better.”

And perhaps that’s the only thing that needs to be don;, however, the changes have been made and now uncertainty surrounds the weekend. While there are hopes that the removal of the top groove of progressive banking will bring back the Bristol of old, I have a feeling fans will still be disappointed. With the exception of Pocono in July, the majority of events run on a newly repaved track leave you with little to write home about.

But with that said, a tire test in June confirmed that the third racing groove is almost non-existent now.

“That outside line–the upper groove–is out of play now. There’s going to be a lot closer racing than we’ve had here in the past,” Clint Bowyer said. “I don’t typically run up there but a lot of guys do and I can’t seem 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.”

That’s the key question: is it going to make fans happy? Sometimes I fear you’re never truly going to make everyone happy. The same spectators that were screaming for the changes in March will likely be the first ones lined up to again cry foul if they don’t get a product exactly like there was before the progressive banking was put in. While there is one less groove for the drivers to use, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that outside lane work its way back in as all three series lay rubber down over the track in the coming days.

While there’s plenty of uncertainty around exactly what to expect this weekend, one thing is for sure: the triple-header is make-or-break for Bristol. I didn’t have a problem with the racing the last five years brought us, especially since drivers had to actually race each other for position … gasp! But it is a bit unnerving to look at the stands at a track that previously had a years-long waiting list only to see major holes where people of all ages once crammed themselves in like sardines. And while some of those gaps can be blamed on the economy, the overall quality of the on-track product across the board–not just at Bristol–is largely to blame.

So while Bruton Smith had good intentions of trying to give the fans what they wanted, I’m not yet sold on whether the result will be the one that was intended. Of course, by Sunday morning, I could be eating my words and declaring it the best race in a while, but only time will tell. One thing is for sure: fans had better fill those stands after Smith went out on a limb to re-design the track based on their demands.

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