News & Media


Drivers prefer the new style of racing at Bristol

March 21, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The beating and banging is gone, and that's OK for the guys behind the wheel

It's still Thunder Valley. The World's Fastest Half-Mile. The Coliseum of short tracks. Bristol Motor Speedway.

But what fans loved about the Bristol that existed before the track was resurfaced in 2007 -- the bumping and banging and fender rubbing -- has been replaced by side-by-side racing, which is much more exciting to the guys behind the wheel.

"Some of the fans like the old track. From a racer's standpoint, we can race finally. This place is fun to race at."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

It used to be the toughest ticket in motorsports. But Sunday's crowd, estimated at 120,000, seemed a bit sparse in Bristol's expansive grandstands. Blame the economy, but should the new style of Bristol racing get partial credit?

The final laps of the Jeff Byrd 500 came down to a three-way battle between Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, which got the fans on their feet. But neither Edwards nor Johnson ever got close enough to put a dent in Busch's sheet metal.

Dale Earnhardt rattled Terry Labonte's cage here. Jeff Gordon laid the chrome horn on Rusty Wallace here.

So what has taken away Bristol's bite?

"There's no doubt the old track lent itself to more contact," Johnson said. "There was no outside lane. You would just go in and move the guy off the bottom and take the lane from him."

Busch agreed.

"The old Bristol was the old Bristol," Busch said. "We don't have that anymore. It made for some interesting moments with guys that would beat and bang a little bit more, rough each other up a little bit more, maybe."

And even though Johnson understands the new style of racing is a turnoff for some, he's much more in favor of how it is now.

"Some of the fans like the old track," Johnson said. "From a racer's standpoint, we can race finally. This place is fun to race at."

That was seconded by Busch.

"With the new Bristol, it's really cool for all the drivers because we have a race track that we can race on," Busch said. "We don't have to get into each other to pass each other. You can wait for the race track to come to you or you can make your car a little bit better in order to be better with that guy, you can race that guy. There's room here to breathe a little bit."

Still, had Edwards gotten to Busch's bumper, there might have been an opportunity to bring back some of the excitement of the old Bristol. But Edwards couldn't keep Busch close enough on the final few restarts to give the crowd what they came for.

"I think the last two [restarts], if I'm not mistaken, I had to lift out of the gas," Edwards said. "I got a pretty good jump on him. I kind of figured out what he was doing.

"But he does do a really good job on restarts. I think that outside lane, you have a little more of a hill to come down or something, so you have a little advantage on the outside. So I was doing everything I could to take away that advantage. I needed a few restarts just to figure out how to keep up with him because he was doing a really good job."

Sitting third, Johnson wondered if Edwards could have pulled off the bump-and-run, or at least the kamikaze move he tried on Johnson at Kansas two years back.

"You'd have to think if you're in second with one or two to go, that guy is within arm's reach, you're going to take a shot at it," Johnson said. "The way it panned out [Sunday] with two to go, Kyle had a big enough margin, even if the throttle was hung, that Carl couldn't have gotten a shot at him."

So Bristol didn't add another controversial finish to its long and impressive history book. But that was just fine and dandy with Busch.

"I guess there's less drama, per se," Busch said. "I like less drama because I like less to deal with. To me it's a fun race track, it's a fun place to race. I don't know if the old Bristol with this car would be single-file more, more bumper cars, which would essentially draw more attention or not.

"I feel like racing side-by-side is pretty cool. You can cheer a guy on to get by a guy for a couple laps, rather than watch him sit in a line and then go, 'Yeah, he got by the guy. The other guy is already a straightaway back. He's hung up on the outside.' "