NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Side-by-side – Bruton Smith threw bad money after good by grinding the top of the race surface at Bristol

In the Summer of 2007, Bruton Smith spent a truck load of money to put truck loads of new surface onto the race track at Bristol Motor Speedway. Not only was a new surface put in place but variable banking that allowed drivers to, say it with me, RUN SIDE-BY-SIDE competitively on a half mile race track. Unheard of in the modern era of NASCAR, fans were allowed to see people on the outside at Bristol actually make passes and advance their position. Better yet, they were able to pass people without having to at least shove them out of the way or at worst, wreck them to get by. Races were filled with two and three wide racing throughout the pack for laps on end without detriment to one lane or the other. Somehow, that irritated or bored fans to a point that more than a third of them stopped coming to see the races there. As a result, Bruton Smith ground down the banking at the top of the track and attempted to return the single grove bump, dump and wreck racing back to the facility. Thanks to Smith at least trying to bring the old parade back to town, the track was nearly sold out last August for the Night Race at Bristol. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, the drivers figured out that they could make the top groove work and the race ended up being a two groove race still. While the race was fantastic from start to finish and the ending was edge of the seat theater, the number of cautions was limited and almost know cars were wrecked. As a result, the jury is still out on whether the fans will like the new surface more than the altered surface before the grinding. From where I sit, which was near the top of the grandstands in turn two last Summer, there is nothing more enjoyable that watching cars racing side-by-side with first one and then the other gaining slight advantages each lap. The great thing about Richmond is that a driver can get to the inside of another competitor but has to struggle to complete the pass because they can't use the whole race track. That never ending battle to gain the inches necessary to eventually complete the pass is why Richmond is still one of the best race tracks anywhere. When Bruton Smith added the progressive banking to Bristol, he put the track on the same plane as Richmond and the racing became fantastic from the front to the back and everywhere in between. With the ground top of the track, the surface at Bristol is offering enough grip up top to give drivers an advantage running up there, but going to the bottom won't give the drivers enough of an advantage to make a pass so the race is going to lend itself to a single groove, it will just be around the top now instead of the bottom. Close racing and passing are the two things that make for great races. With the varying degrees of banking the “old” new Bristol had allowed drivers to run on all three lanes around the track and make passes in any of them. The drivers could pass someone on the top at one point in a run then on the bottom another part and finally in the middle at yet another point. However the drivers were running, and wherever they were running, they put on a fantastic race and did it all without tearing up a bunch of race cars. And that is the rub right there. Based on the statement made by fans with their wallets and their keyboards, they don't want to see racing at Bristol, they want to see wrecking. If what you want to see is cars destroyed for no reason, then the “new” new Bristol is more for you than the old one. I'll stick with cars running in three lanes on a half mile race track with any of them having a chance to win.

Side By Side: Should NASCAR Award Bonus Points Throughout Each Race?

_Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we're going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!_ *This Week's Question: NASCAR is looking at all sorts of ways to make the racing early in events more competitive. To do so, should they begin awarding point \"bonuses\" for segments of events (first 100 laps, second 100 laps, etc.) so drivers will be encouraged to race harder?* <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike Neff, Senior Writer: Segmented Bonus Points Are a Must</span> We’ve heard the same ol’ song and dance for years and it has never been more prevalent since the advent of the Chase. Drivers ride around for most of the race and then drive hard at the end because that is when they pay the money and the points. There is no incentive to go hard during the middle of the event unless you’re trying to lead the most laps, and with the current point system, where you only get one point for leading the most, the danger of losing twenty or thirty points due to a crash is far more daunting than trying to get the one bonus point. As a result, fans are turning away from the sport more and more because the only parts of the race worth watching are the beginning and the end. The time has come for NASCAR to give the drivers a reason to push hard throughout the event. The tracks on the NASCAR circuit, as well as the events themselves, come in a variety of different lengths, so it would not work to pay points at a specific numbered lap. Instead, what NASCAR must do is decide what percentage of the race will result in the awarding of in-race points. The most logical, and easiest for the fans to understand (which is a priority apparently for the folks in Daytona) is to pay points at the quarter marks of the race. However many laps are to be contested, divide that number by four and pay the points after each segment of the race that contains that many laps. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15500.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"172\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Would awarding points in designated segments throughout each race create close racing…</p></div> In simple terms, the Daytona 500 is 200 laps long. Divide the total number of laps by four and you get 50-lap segments. When the first 50 laps of the race is completed, points are awarded. Then, you do it again at the halfway point and finally at the three-quarter mark before the ultimate points are awarded for the finishing order. You will have the same formula at every track; there will just be different numbers of laps in the segments. The drivers will know before the race starts what the lap numbers are so that they can focus on being in the best position at those points in the race. You wouldn't want NASCAR to award full race points at each of these segments, but rewarding the top 5 or even the top 10 would make things much more interesting. If they paid 10 points for leading at each quarter point of the race, a driver could actually score more points than the winner by leading at the three-quarter mark but coming home second in the race. Some fans might object to that, though, and NASCAR could obviously tweak the points so that the winner is guaranteed the most points on a race weekend. But the point is that it will give drivers an incentive to go hard for the whole race and someone can actually make up some ground in the standings, something that is extremely hard to do these days. Paying points for more than the quarters might give too much to the drivers leading or near the front of the pack for most of the race but not at the finish. However, it will encourage the drivers to go hard early and often during the race to keep themselves in contention for the bonus points throughout the event. Race strategies will develop around these point milestones. Some teams might stay out under a caution to garner the points while other teams pit. When the points are earned the teams who stayed out will then pit and the cars at the back of the pack will now be up front. It will open a myriad of possibilities which will all add excitement to the event. Would this idea be harder to follow than the current point system? A little bit. However, the thing that most fans want to know is where does their driver sit at the end of the day? They really don’t care about the points that are earned throughout the race or where their driver runs. As a result, the drivers will know when they want to be up front and getting there will add excitement to the events. It will also open up sponsorship opportunities for race promoters because each segment could have a sponsor paying a purse to the leader. It would hearken back to the old halfway bonus. For those who don’t remember, there used to be a halfway bonus of $10,000 for the driver leading at the crossed flags. It cost Dale Jarrett the Brickyard 400 one year because he tried to stretch his fuel to the halfway point and ran out. Racing should be about trying to lead the most laps and beating the competition. Unfortunately, it has come down to a points management game now. The only way to get the competitive excitement back into the sport, while still allowing the bean counters the chance to keep track of points is to offer them more often throughout the events. In the end, it will make for a much better show. <span style=\"color:orange; font-weight:bold\">S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: There's no need for more bonus points</span> And welcome to the New Hampshire 100, three times the charm, trophy awarded to all comers, presented by NASCAR and your local T-ball team. No, it is not worth your while as a top-notch professional stock car team to go balls to the wall all 500 laps, proving to the world that your machine is the most durable, that you've hired a pilot with both endurance and wits, and that you've the wherewithal to garner enough sponsors to pay your bills. No, it's quite all right. We've got you covered. <div style=\"float:left; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15495.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"375\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">…or would it simply mean everyone gets a ribbon while the winner's accomplishment is diminished?</p></div> Instead of pushing every limit on man and machine, we've got a brand new way of doing business for the Sprint Cup Series. We're going to fully embrace the title sponsor's name and turn Sunday's marathon into a Saturday Night Special. Every 50 laps we'll award a ribbon to the boy or girl who slips past the start/finish line first–there's a new flag designed for the moment – it features a cartoon character. We're just waiting for the fan poll to come through so we can name it. We've also decided to print a certificate for the best fuel mileage, snazziest pit crew uniforms and most dramatic performance by a crew chief. If that's not enough, there's the 75-lap, 50/50 raffle to keep the fans interested. During the lap 150 scheduled break, the track mascot will scamper up and down the stands awarding the brightest fan (that's brightest…as in t-shirt color) free tickets to come back again. On lap 225, there will be a Twitter poll with random participants earning points toward a meet n' greet with the lap 275 leader. Victory Lane? That has been abbreviated into a photo op with the State Troopers in the parking lot while the team tries to escape the traffic jam. No, you cannot improve the racing of the Sprint Cup Series by chopping up the event into shorter, lucrative segments. By doing so, you will have devalued all that the teams have worked so hard to achieve in reaching the upper echelon of stock car racing in America. There are no 500-lap features at your local Friday night track. The cars won't last. The drivers aren't as good. The ruts in the surface would probably crumble. By reaching the Sprint Cup Series, you have proven that you've got the goods to go the distance. When you take the trophy, you've done what many others have only dreamed of accomplishing: beat the competition by being the brightest, fastest, strongest, most adaptive, focused, intelligent and on the occasion just plain lucky. And yes, by driving smart for the first 499 laps. The fat lady only sings once a race. That's what we hand out the big checks for and that's the way it should remain. Otherwise, we should close every major racing venue and excuse ourselves to the splintered benches of Thompson, Irwindale, and Eldora. *Connect with Sonya!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/laregna\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact S.D. Grady\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14360/ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Fan’s View: The 2010 Season Next Verse Same as the 1st? I Don’t Think So!

The face sitting in victory lane on Sunday may have been a familiar one. Jimmie Johnson appeared as a giddy school kid while he studied his Auto Club 500 trophy. You have got to admit the Chevy Fleetmaster Woody Hot Rod with the surf board on top hauling a shiny new No. 48 to the …

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Fan’s View: You Know It’s Time to Repave Daytona When…

You know, life often goes on in a pretty bland miasma of non-interfering episodes. We get up in the morning, drink the coffee, take the shower, climb in the car and scoot off to work. Day after day, week after week… it’s awfully boring when you think about it. However, there’s usually something that will …

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Fan’s View: Talking About NASCAR Family & Friends

It’s like the first day of high school. No, not your freshman year, where you’re walking around afraid the seniors are about to do something awful to you, but your sophomore year. Everybody piles off the bus, you exchange news from the summer and you wonder what your friends think about… your new look. That …

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Who’ll Win It? NASCAR 2010 Season Predictions

2010 is supposed to start a new era for NASCAR – but Jimmie Johnson may have something to say before we’re all said and done. No amount of “Let Boys Be Boys” rhetoric keeps Johnson from being the overwhelming favorite for a fifth title with both fans and the media. But as the season gets …

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