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Drivers Speed To Defense Of ‘New’ Bristol

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 26 2011

Clint Bowyer leads Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray through a corner at Bristol. The repaved track has not cut down on side-by-side racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The folks that run Bristol Motor Speedway are probably a little glad to see the timing of the official Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR announcement.

That ought to shuffle to the back burner some of the debate in the media over whether the changes to the Bristol track back in 2007 have helped or hurt the racing.

There are plenty of people who will say that the “new” track isn’t as good as the old, just as 14 years after Atlanta Motor Speedway was changed from its original true oval configuration to the current quad oval there are people still saying the original track produced better racing.

Some say the changes at Bristol, which led to more side-by-side racing and less wrecking, are one of the big reasons the track’s long run of consecutive sellouts has come to an end. It seems that there’s a segment of the NASCAR audience that had rather watch races on the old Bristol track, a one-groove place where passing a driver meant knocking him or her out of the way – or at least sideways – then quickly motoring on by.

One group that seems to have no complaints about the new Bristol is the drivers themselves, and they should be pleased because the track took input from drivers in making the changes.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the track is fine. He said the Car of Tomorrow, which made its

Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows what's wrong with the racing at Bristol: Nothing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

debut at Bristol, is the problem.

“I don’t think it has [anything] to do with the race track,” he said during his press conference at Michigan last week. “I think it has more to do with the fact that we went to the COT about the same time. I think the race track is awesome, and I think if you put the old car out there, you would see some [great] races….

“The track is perfect and fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s as good or better than it ever was.”

He said the same couldn’t be said for the COT, especially at a track like Bristol.

“We have the COT now and it’s tough with the splitters to drive these things around the short tracks, especially a banked place like Bristol,” he said. “They don’t really want to turn too well when they get on the splitters.”

Kurt Busch, who won five times on the old Bristol track but is winless on the new, agreed that the change to the track has stirred plenty of debate.

“Every time you turn around, you’re getting questioned on: ‘We want the old Bristol back,’” he said. “It’s not going to happen. We’re out there racing two-, sometimes three-wide now. It gets three-wide pretty quick when you’re in traffic and the two leaders don’t want to yield and give up time around those lap cars.

“It’s exciting to me. I think a lot of the drivers agree it’s a place now where it’s changed and you have to have a little bit of finesse mixed in if you want to have success.”

So the debate continues: Do fans prefer wrecking or racing?

Racing appears to be gaining the upper hand. On the eve of race weekend, track officials were saying that ticket sales for the Irwin Tools Night Race are up significantly, not quite to the sell-out level, but much better than in recent races.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 26 2011
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