NASCAR drivers split over proposed changes to Bristol Motor Speedway
|By Diego Mejia||Saturday, March 31st 2012, 21:58 GMT|
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have expressed mixed views over planned changes at Bristol Motor Speedway, some suggesting it is minimal tyre degradation that has led to dull racing in recent events at the half-mile track.
Bristol owner Bruton Smith has said the track is set to undergo changes before NASCAR returns for a second race next August, although specifics of the possible modifications to the track have yet to be revealed.
The track was reconfigured with progressive banking and a new surface back in 2007 but for the past few years crowds have decreased notably at a venue where tickets were once much sought after.
Last month's Bristol Cup race drew a crowd of just over 100,000, less than two thirds of full grandstand capacity - the event featuring few lead changes and lacking the carnage that was once a trademark of races at the venue.
"It's about time," said Kevin Harvick about the planned changes. "Sometimes you hear the saying that bigger isn't always better, the grass isn't always greener on the other side, that's a prime example of the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Sometimes you can't make things better than they are.
"I'm proud of them for realising that they have a problem. A lot of guys would argue that you can change the tyre, and you can change this or that, but you're still not going to have bent racecars and 'doughnuts' on cars.
"The things that people expect from Bristol still won't be there unless they put it back to how it was. After the last race there, I think they finally realised what I've told them since the first day after the first race. They didn't like to hear it, but it just wasn't Bristol. Hopefully they will do a good job."
Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr, a former winner at Bristol, is not sure the track needs to be changed again and points to tyres as being more of a factor in reviving the kind of racing that made the track a crowd favourite.
"I am not sure that they need to do really anything at all either," said Earnhardt. "They could work a little bit on the tyre and see if that made a difference. The tyres are the number one component connecting the cars to the racetrack. They have to have a major play in how cars race, drive, and compete against each other on the racetrack.
"So I think the tyres being the number one variable to me of what could affect what the race looks like and what the race appears to be to the fan. I think that is sort of an underappreciated part of the puzzle."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin reckons a lack of tyre degradation is the issue.
However, last year Goodyear was forced to change the tyre specification following official practice after cords were appearing very early into a run. The issue led the tyre manufacturer to have a more conservative approach, but not without having an impact on the way the races unfold.
"It depends, what do you want to fix about Bristol?" said Hamlin. "As far as side-by-side [racing], I think it's got it. If you look at Bristol, it had the least amount of fall off of any tyre that we had during this year. I think you start off around a 16.40s fast time and you ended 100 laps later running 16.90s. That's just not enough fall off.
"You have to have overtaking and to have overtaking, you have to have cars that are running faster than others...
"It's a tough job to make a tyre that does that and will live and ultimately not put our safety at risk of blowing tyres. Really, Goodyear has made tyres that are idiot proof now. We can't abuse them enough to blow them out. That's why you don't see the passing that we used to have."
Smith is reportedly seeking financial aid from the state of Tennessee in order to go ahead with his reconfiguration plan, which he said would be revealed soon.