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Race Day: Will Change Buy Excitement At Bristol?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 21 2010

Bristol Motor Speedway's night race is one of the most popular in the sport. How will changes affect tonight's event? (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Sprint Cup Series has been racing at Bristol Motor Speedway for almost 50 years so you think teams and driver would have a pretty good idea of what to expect during races at the high-banked short track.

But in recent years, racing has changed at BMS. New concrete surface, new banking and this year, new tires.

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say Friday about Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race:

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet: I think we have got potential to see “old school” Bristol race with a lot of guys up on the top all night which I always thought was really cool here. Kind of excited to see what happens tonight in the Nationwide race, I think that will give us a good indication of what we are going to have tomorrow night. I think tomorrow night we will have a lot of cars on the top of the race track again.”

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “Yeah, I’m not sure why it’s changing like this. Asphalt wears out much more and concrete stays very consistent. We’ve seen the outside lane work better and better each time, but I guess the teams are getting smarter and are planning to run the top lane. The bottom works. I think you’ll need to run the bottom to work through lapped cars and through traffic, but if your car isn’t handling right, you have to slow the car down so much more to get to the inside lane that it’s just easier to not tough the brake and let the car roll up into the banking.

“Once you hit the banking it really helps the car change directions and get going for you. You may not win the race on the bottom, but you’re going to have to run well on the bottom to get through traffic and to make stuff happen. I think the preferred lane will be middle to top as we get going in the race, which is totally backwards for this place.”

Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: I think they did a good job.  I think it’ll be much better, but I think people are going to run up the race track, really, just because the cars seem to be loose in and don’t seem to have as much grip. So when you run that top lane, you can kind of keep more momentum and not be as loose in because you don’t have to cut the corner as sharp down on the bottom. I don’t think you’re going pass on the bottom. I just don’t see it happening.”

Fast facts

What: Irwin Tools Night Race

Where: At Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: .533-mile concrete oval

Banking in corners: Varies from 26 to 30 degrees

Banking in frontstretch: Varies from 5 to 9 degrees

Banking in backstretch: Varies from 4-8 degrees

Race distance: 500 laps/266.5 miles

Estimated pit window: 120-130 laps

2009 winner: Kyle Busch

2009 polesitter: Mark Martin

Tonight’s polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

The longest walk: The infield at Bristol has also been redone. New buildings and facilities have been constructed and the hauler positions changed.

Greg Biffle was asked about the new-look infield.

“I think it’s neat that it’s different,” he said. “I wish they could have put the bathrooms closer. It’s a long walk, but the facilities are really nice.”

Trivia time

Who is the only driver to lead every lap in a race at Bristol?

Mid-pack heat

After last weekend’s race at Michigan, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano confronted each other to “discus” an on-track incident. That incident took place while they were nowhere near the leaders.

Jeff Burton was asked why mid-pack drivers are getting so testy these days.

“I will tell you and I’ve made the comment before that people just don’t realize how hard it is racing for 15th or 18th; and the reason why is everybody is running the same speed,” Burton said. “It’s just so hard to give any space because if you give it, you can never get it back. But honestly it depends on who you’re racing and your relationship with that guy. Some guys race you harder than others for 18th; and some guys, depending on just the personalities or relationships between those two drivers that sometimes it’s harder and sometimes it’s not as hard. So, I didn’t see the incident that happened last week, but I think it’s just a sign of how competitive it is.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: 12, by Darrell Waltrip

Most poles: 9, by Cale Yarborough and Mark Martin

Most top-fives: 26 by Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip

Most top-10s: 37, by Richard Petty

Most lead changes: 40 (1991)

Fewest lead changes: Zero (1973)

Most cautions: 20 (three times)

Fewest cautions: Zero (1971)

Most caution laps: 167 (1965)

Fewest cars running at finish: 7 (1966)

Most wins by a manufacturer: 41, by Chevrolet

Closest margin of victory: .064 seconds

Widest margin of victory: 7.63 seconds

Stepping outside

Kurt Busch left little room for doubt about lane selection on restarts at Bristol.

“If you’re smart enough, you should just count cars as you come off of pit road and if you’re going to end up in an odd numbered position, pull over, check up on the brakes and let somebody pass you, that way you start on the outside lane,” Busch said. “It’s that important to start on the outside lane especially when guys in front of you have two tires because they just bottle up the inside lane and there’s nowhere to go.”

Bristol Berthers

The two top contenders for the 12th and final playoff berth are Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, who is 35 points behind Bowyer.

Bowyer was asked about the competition with Martin and said, “Can’t get that guy to go away. Anytime you are racing Mark Martin for any kind of position, it is going to be a hard-fought battle. I know that it’s going to be a hard-fought battle right down to Richmond. You can’t count out Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray-they are still in this thing.  You can’t count those guys out. Last weekend we had a good run going, we didn’t we finish quite as good as we wanted to, as we should have.”

Trivia Answer

Cale Yarborough led every lap and won the race driving for Junior Johnson in 1973.

Up next

After Bristol, the Cup series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Labor Day Classic 500.

Last year, Kasey Kahne won that race.

Kurt Busch won at Atlanta earlier this season.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 21 2010
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