Drivers anxious to see if new Bristol track will bring back old-style racing

Are NASCAR fans there only to see crashes? Bruton Smith thinks so. He thinks crowds are down because the cars were not crashing enough, so he has eliminated the top groove to ensure the only way to pass is to bump, bang or crash out your opponent.

For Sprint Cup drivers who have not been on the altered Bristol Motor Speedway racing surface, they have one wish for Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race.

"I just hope that they didn’t screw it up," series points leader Greg Biffle said. Of course, the definition of what is good and what is bad at Bristol depends on the driver and varies widely from drivers to fans.

The track was resurfaced and reconfigured in 2007 to include progressive banking on the 0.533-mile concrete oval. The banking went from 24 degrees in the bottom groove to 30 degrees in the upper groove. That gave drivers three preferred racing lines at a track previously known for its tight grooves, which often forced them to bump cars out of their way to make a pass.

But with the 158,000-seat stadium only about half-full in March, Bristol owner Bruton Smith decided to grind about two degrees off the top 12 to 15 feet of banking near the outside wall in hopes of eliminating the upper groove and bringing back a style of racing that encourages more contact.

Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer tested tires there in June.

"I really can’t imagine running up there in that top groove," Burton said after the test. "I think it is going to force everyone more to the middle and bottom of the track.

"The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space."

Many drivers used that upper groove at various times in the race.

"I would say about one out of 10 laps I spend in the top groove, so it will change it just a little bit for me," Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards said. "Who knows what will happen?

"Any time you change a track like that there is no telling. It might make it a completely different race, and I guess in the end that is what they are trying to do." More at Sporting News

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