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Bristol Half-Mile Is All Test, No Rest

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 17 2012

Bristol still features one-of-a-kind racing – for teams and fans. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Just watching a practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway or at Martinsville Speedway makes one wonder why there aren’t more half-mile tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

They seem to be a far better test of man and machine than some of the longer tracks that dominate the Sprint Cup schedule.

“Bristol, in my eyes, is one of the three or four race tracks on the circuit where you don’t have a fluke winner,” Jeff Burton said recently. “Guys who don’t run well anywhere else can win at Daytona, [but] an average race car driver just doesn’t win at Bristol.

“Everybody has to be on it at Bristol, and the winners there are typically hard racers. And if you can win there, you feel like you can win anywhere. I look at Bristol as the ultimate test of where you are as a driver.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that of all the trophies in his collection, his from 2004 at Bristol is one of his most cherished.

“That was a big deal to me because I had seen those trophies in my house all my life,” he said. “They were the biggest trophies you could bring home. They were bigger than even the championship trophy….. I just wanted one of those trophies, really. I was really glad to get one. It is right there in my living room. I don’t have many trophies in my house, but that’s one of them that is there.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch talk racing at Bristol on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Earnhardt said he also has always appreciated how the track challenges a driver.

“I admired the track for how tough it was; and how tenacious the races were; and how hard the driving was; how difficult it was on drivers,” he said. “It is just such a unique race track. one-of-a-kind.

“I think it has proven its popularity through ticket sales over the years, and its ability to grow and become what it is today. When you look at pictures of it when it was first built, and all through the 70s and 80s even; then see what it is today; it is really amazing the progress, and expansion that this little track in Tennessee has had.”

Carl Edwards, who has two Bristol victories, said he hasn’t had much trouble mastering Bristol, but Martinsville, where he is winless, is a different matter.

“Martinsville definitely is tough,” he said. “The guy that has helped me the most at Martinsville is Jeff

Jeff Burton's crew pushes its car up pit road at Bristol. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Burton. He helped me when I was first starting, and Bobby Hamilton spent a lot of time with me.

“I still don’t feel like I have that place mastered. Bristol drives a lot like a three-eighths of half-mile dirt track with the way the banking picks up and the way it feels. There is a lot more momentum involved. This place really was a little more natural for me.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jimmie Johnson has six wins at Martinsville and only one at Bristol.

“When you win [at Bristol] you have done something right,” Johnson said. “It’s such a demanding track. It is a very unique race track and there is a certain driving style that works here and really a set-up. Once you get it, you can hang on to it for a period of time.

“It is fun when it’s right, and it doesn’t take much to go from being fast and having fun to slow and hating life. A 10th of a second would be too generous – a half a 10th is really the difference it makes in what your mood is and the experience you have here at the track.”

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 17 2012
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