Race Weekend Central

Side by Side: New Bristol vs. Old Bristol

Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch’s Side by Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: With the recent changes made at Bristol the last few years, do you prefer the racing at the old or new configuration?

Gimme the NEW Bristol any day!

Once again, the argument that started immediately after the 2007 Sharpie 500, (the aftermath of which found me offering my resignation from this very site by the way… rejected, obviously!) rears its ugly head. That argument is simple: which Bristol configuration produces the best racing? The old or the new?

Now, since I have fought this battle before, and with an infinitely bigger foe than my esteemed colleague this time (zing!), I jumped at the chance to do it again. Why? Because during the last decade, I have attended all but three of the August night races, not as a member of the media, but as a fan! While media membership has its perks, the biggest drawback is the choice of beverages my editors let me choose from whilst “working.” Never one to ruffle anyone’s feathers, I opt to view this race on MY terms and leave the “work” to someone else.

See also
Voices from the Heartland: When It Comes to Bristol, Professional

Another reason I have chosen this fight is because I have argued it before in my weekly column and it is easier to “copy and paste” from past articles than it is to come up with fancy new stuff! I mean, you can’t plagiarize yourself, can you? Of course I tweaked and updated a little, but still, why screw up something that was good to begin with!

At any rate, while my differing opinion has not altered in the slightest, again I have decided to take a different approach. A more scientific one, if you will, that will let you draw your own conclusions. You will have to decide for yourself whether you like racing or a brightly colored parade of cars.

The following is a statistical comparison of the last 11 races at BMS, keeping in mind that the most recent five are the ones since it has been resurfaced. Key points to focus on, in my opinion, are number of cautions and laps under caution (C/L), pole speed (PS), average race speed (ARS), and margin of victory (MoV). Time of race in hours/minutes (ToR) is also listed. So, without further ado…

’09 Sharpie 500: C/L: 11-76 PS: 124.4 ARS: 84.82 MoV: .098 sec ToR: 3:08

’09 Food City 500: C/L: 9-58 PS: 125.7 ARS: 92.13 MoV: .391 sec. ToR: 2:54

’08 Sharpie 500: C/L: 5-56 PS: 121.8 ARS: 91.58 MoV: 1.96 sec. ToR: 2:54

’08 Food City 500: C/L: 10-68 PS: n/a (rain) ARS: 89.77 MoV: .58 sec. ToR: 3:00

’07 Sharpie 500: C/L: 9-61 PS: 119.8 ARS: 89.00 MoV: 1.4 sec. ToR: 2:59

(Before re-surface)

’07 Food City 500: C/L: 15-90 PS: 125.4 ARS: 81.9 MoV: .064 sec. ToR: 3:16

’06 Sharpie 500: C/L: 10-62 PS: 124.9 ARS: 90.02 MoV: .591 sec. ToR: 2:57

’06 Food City 500: C/L: 18-104 PS: n/a (rain) ARS: 79.4 MoV: .179 sec. ToR: 3:21

’05 Sharpie 500: C/L: 16-88 PS: 127.3 ARS: 84.6 MoV: .511 sec. ToR: 3:08

’05 Food City 500: C/L: 14-115 PS: 127.7 ARS: 77.49 MoV: 4.65 sec. ToR: 3:26

’04 Sharpie 500: C/L: 9-63 PS: 9-63 PS: 128.52 ARS: 88.5 MoV: 4.39 sec. ToR: 3:00

As you can see from the data, not much has really changed. Since the re-surfacing, the pole speeds have come down, but the average race speed has gone up! Cautions and resulting laps have been reduced, resulting in – hold on to your hats – MORE RACING! Plus, you get to see cars RACE in the corners.

When I saw that first race after the track was re-banked, I was utterly amazed! To actually see the drivers RACE through the corners, having the OPTION to run low, mid or high, truly let the race live up to the track slogan “racin’ the way it oughta be!” Trust me, nothing is more boring than watching a 500-lap race in which sometimes, almost a full quarter of it is run under caution.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I too liked the old Bristol, with its patented and often violent punt and run, but it was all I had known. What good is severe banking on a racetrack if all you can competitively run at is the bottom!? Might as well take them out and have another Martinsville! No, Bristol is banked for a reason – at least now the drivers can – USE the banks. You still have the close quarter bumping and grinding that Bristol inevitably produces, but the difference is, you get to see ‘em race as the title of this segment suggests… Side by Side!!! Who doesn’t like that?

The one drawback that I can see is the race time duration. Less time to consume beverages! Oh, well; I guess you can’t have your beer and drink it too! – Jeff Meyer

Bristol Ain’t What it Once Was

NASCAR fans and critics these days want more emotion, more passion, less Jimmie Johnson. And in the past, Bristol could outright bring it like no other venue. (It’s even one of the few places where the No. 48 team hasn’t won.)

Then came the Chase, the new NASCARmobile and the resurfacing.

I didn’t think much of Matt Kenseth’s spanking the field in the 2005 Bristol night race. It was great to see the No. 17 team fight their way into the playoffs after a miserable first half of the season. When Kenseth won it again the following year, it still didn’t occur to me that something was amiss when one of the sport’s smoothest drivers was acing one of the roughest races on the schedule.

Then, in 2007, watching NASCAR drivers race each other so gentlemanly in the eye of the Thunder Valley storm, it hit me.

They’re points racing.

Of course NASCAR didn’t mean for it to happen, just as they didn’t mean for Brad Keselowski to go airborne when they told the boys to have at it. But a playoff that rewards points racing looming over the horizon has surgically removed the heart of what made Bristol great.

Think of Jeff Gordon putting the bumper on Rusty Wallace or Dale Earnhardt rattling Terry Labonte’s cage. Maybe those highlights didn’t make you a fan of Earnhardt or Gordon. But people remember those take-no-prisoners moments. Do you think Gordon – or even Earnhardt – would have put it on the line and risked a retaliation DNF for a win while facing the prospect of missing the playoffs? Missing a Chase is embarrassing enough; for a former champion, it isn’t worth the risk.

With the Chase field decided just two races after Bristol, there are often a dozen drivers who are either barely above the cutoff or on the outside looking in, making everyone else in the field wary of ending a bubble driver’s evening. Kyle Busch and Mark Martin had a decent battle last year, but both were fighting for a playoff spot over anything else, and as a result were careful enough to not risk a wreck going for the once-coveted Bristol night race win.

Martin may have been a gentleman and raced Busch hard and clean, but the situation dictated it no matter who was behind the wheel. Put another driver in the No. 5, out of the championship hunt and with nothing to lose, and we might have seen a finish to talk about for years.

Add to this dilemma a spec car, which by definition makes passing difficult, with an air dam that makes drafting easy but passing near impossible. Figure in repaving that makes for multiple grooves and the sum is moments like the Kasey KahneMichael Waltrip battle of 2007. Despite being two laps down, Waltrip raced harder than anyone had seen him race in recent memory, holding off Kahne for nearly 20 laps – in the middle of the race.

Imagine Waltrip trying that against Tony Stewart, with only one groove on the racetrack. I expect Kahne’s fans weren’t too happy about it. But more to the point, how does a driver two laps down hold off the leader like that?

The answer is that no one car is ever vastly superior to another these days, and that more grooves in the track make ultimately meaningless battles less risky.

After the first race at Thunder Valley following the resurfacing in 2007 – with four drivers on the bubble and three with still a realistic shot at the playoffs – it seemed as though all of the drivers were ready to hug each other and sing Kumbaya. You know a Bristol race just isn’t as entertaining when everyone is smiling in post-race interviews. Never before were long green runs so frequent.

Some people prefer the new Bristol, where passing on the outside is possible and drivers no longer need to use the chrome horn to pass a stubborn competitor. And that’s OK. Resurfacing a track is unfortunately sometimes necessary. But in stock car racing, “beatin’ and bangin’” may be the most complimentary phrase that can be associated with a racetrack. A half-mile racetrack plus one groove equals beatin’, bangin’ and “have at it, boys.” It makes for great duel after great duel at Martinsville and it used to at Bristol, too.

Bristol still offers great racing. It’s still one of the sport’s best arenas. The sport has lost too many short tracks.

But I miss the days when the Bristol night race win was one of the biggest of the year and drivers moved other drivers out of the way for it… because they had to. – Kurt Smith

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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