Race Weekend Central

Beth’s Brief: Bristol Headed the Right Direction

Beating, banging, tempers flaring. These are all words that have described Bristol in the past and in fact contributed to the extensive waiting list for tickets. However, things changed at the 0.533-mile short track nestled in the heart of Tennessee following a repave back in 2007, and following dismal attendance back in March, Bruton Smith moved forward with fan feedback asking for something to be done. Ultimately what happened came down to just a couple degrees of banking being shaved off of the top groove, and boy what a difference it made. Last Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race left me with a grin on my face as the checkered flag flew.

Before I begin, I should make it very clear that the “old” Bristol is not back by any means, and frankly I wish people would quit comparing it to today’s track surface. It’s something that’s forever changed and regardless of what everyone wants, it’ll never quite be the same. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing because what I did see Saturday night was the typical hot tempers that accompany not only short-track racing, but Bristol in particular. Of course the incident getting the most play is the one between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, a tale a beating and banging that ended with a competitor upset and perhaps one of the better helmet throws we’ve seen in a long time.

And that’s just what Bristol needs–a reason for people to keep watching and attending. Now I’m not advocating intentional wrecking by any means. In fact, I’m not one of those that enjoys Bristol because there are so many wrecks. What I do enjoy, though, is the close-quarters _racing_ that usually results in contact allowing a competitor to make a pass on another while both continue running.

As for whether there will be any further issues between Kenseth and Stewart, don’t count on it. During a Mobil 1 promotion on Tuesday, the driver and owner of the No. 14 Chevrolet made it clear he “can’t guarantee anything is not going to happen, but it’s not our intention to go seek him out.” And honestly, that’s just how “rivalries” at Bristol should be. Sure it’s entertaining to see the results and anger coming out in the heat of the moment, but it’s short-track racing and something to be expected. It’s alright to be upset and it’s comforting to know the drivers are smart enough to understand there’s no need to carry it on to a larger track.

But that one incident doesn’t make the entire race. Something that really stood out for me was the number of drivers that appeared to have a shot at the victory. Normally, we see just one or two competitors that stand head and shoulders above the rest during any given weekend, but that wasn’t the case this time around. Sure, pit strategy and a tire that just refused to wear out played into that quite a bit, allowing those who found themselves in a poor starting spot to gain the track position necessary thanks to the difficulty in passing.

Of course there were some negatives to go along with the positive steps as there were a couple of drivers playing” human wrecking ball” throughout the day, but the good news is that it didn’t derail from the rest enough to really worry about it. After all, Bristol has been known to bring out the best and the worst in everyone.

With all of that said, there’s definitely still room for improvement in the on-track product, but it’s headed in the right direction. A little wear and tear on the new surface through winter will likely bring even better competition next March when the series once again descends on Bristol, and I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.

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