Well, the weekend has come and gone and all that is left is memories – albeit some a bit foggy – of a handful of soldiers who made it home alive along with the task of cleaning out (and repairing) the camper.
I did not attend the NASCAR races as a member of the media this weekend. No, as I prefer to do at Bristol, I was a fan. Free to mingle, consume without worry, support my driver proudly and just enjoy the party atmosphere in general.
One thing I did ponder at length, though, was the track itself – and how it seems that the more things change, the more things remain the same.
Remember the controversy that arose a few years ago when Bruton Smith had the track re-ground to create variable degrees of banking? Cars were racing three-wide in the turns at Bristol. The fans – including me – loved the new racing action.
Now, I can’t vouch for everyone because obviously I wasn’t in contact with all 160,000 of them, but the word in the urinal lines, the concession lines and – most importantly – the long, slow, shuffling lines exiting the coliseum was of one accord: the competition was great!
I remember it was with great surprise I learned that the great David Poole, sort of the “Godfather” of NASCAR journalism at the time, had a completely different take. Apparently, after mingling with the masses himself after the race, everything he heard about the new surface was the opposite: it sucked! Long story short, after I had penned a rebuttal that flatly refuted his opinion, I was personally rebuked strongly by the “Godfather” himself and later by my editor-in-chief for pissing him off in the first place. While Mr. Poole and myself had, at the time of his untimely passing, eventually agreed to cordially disagree, it is an email exchange I will never forget. (The biggest lesson that I learned from it all: David Poole reads my stuff!)
Anyway, as the years passed on, the economy took a dive and to the dismay of everyone involved – mostly Bruton Smith, I expect – attendance began to dwindle. The night race was no longer a sellout, the most “obvious” sign of NASCAR’s slow decline. Smith, in a weak moment of desperation, then listened to a small but vocal group of fans who leaned toward supporting the traditional Bristol carnage. They liked watching close to a quarter of the 500 laps under caution, so the track decided to re-grind its asphalt again with the purpose of taking out the top groove.
At first, it seemed the caution lovers would be appeased.
“Well, you’ve definitely lost the top groove. Guys who run up there aren’t going to be able to do that because it’s pretty slick up there,” Tony Stewart told reporters that year after testing (via SB Nation). “There’s going to be less room to race, that’s for sure. We’ve gone from a three-groove track to two grooves and anytime you’ve got less room to get around, it can get pretty interesting. I’m one of the guys who likes that high groove, so it’s really going to change things up for me. It’ll change things for everybody though because when you take away room to race on a track this small with 43 cars… yeah, it’s going to tighten things up.”
“That outside line – the upper groove – is out of play now,” Clint Bowyer added. “There’s going to be a lot closer racing than we’ve had here in the past. I don’t typically run up there but a lot of guys do and I can’t see 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.”
There were more quotes from back in 2012, but you get the gist. So here we are, glowing in the aftermath of another Bristol night race, and where were the majority of the guys running? That’s right, the preferred line was just inches from the wall. In fact, Kevin Harvick set a new track qualifying record running that groove with a speed of 131.362 mph. I should know – I saw it with my own two as-of-then-unblurry eyes! Yes, passing has become more difficult since the latest changes but it’s still possible, drivers racing all over the place while Bristol continues to evolve in a way no one predicted.
Serves them right for trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I don’t know about you, but I’d still rather see racing than record cautions. If only we could know what Mr. Poole would think.
Stay off the wall (but you can run right next to it!)