Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Bristol: Grounds for gripes

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch has three races left to claim a spot in Sprint Cup's 12-driver Chase for the Championship.

Usually his chances would be good headed into tonight's race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he has five Cup victories.

But that was before track owner Bruton Smith decided grinding the track might lure fans back after several years of declining attendance. Asked Friday what he thought of the changes, Busch was succinct:

"Terrible," he said.

He was one of the few drivers with a strong opinion after two practices. Rain washed out qualifying, and Casey Mears and Brad Keselowski will start on the front row because the field was set by practice times. Keselowski has won the past two Cup races at the track including in March.

Few drivers ventured into the top groove during practice, and insisted it's too early to tell how the race will develop.

Smith hopes the race proves Bristol is again one of NASCAR's most exciting tracks. After a ho-hum race in March, Smith had the top lane ground down in an effort to eliminate the two-wide racing that fans believed ruined the product. When progressive banking was added in 2007, the bumping and banging that was a Bristol trademark disappeared.

The track had 55 consecutive sellouts from 1982-2010, and Smith believed tightening the track might bring the fans back.

Timothy Peters led all 204 laps — the first 82 under green — in Wednesday night's trucks race. Drivers watched, and voiced their frustrations.

"Just as expected. Killing the top groove doesn't make the bottom groove any better," Martin Truex posted on Twitter.

Carl Edwards said he's reserving judgment until after the Cup race. He stayed out of the top groove in practice — a combination of habit and "I don't want to be the first guy to go up there if there's no grip."

Matt Kenseth wasn't sure the track needed to be changed. He surmised the push for changes snowballed, perhaps in part due to social media.

"Everybody talks about the old Bristol and people knocking each other out of the way and fighting and all that stuff. Well, we raced these cars at Bristol before they reconfigured it and there was hardly any passing," Kenseth said. "Things change over time and I thought the race in the spring was pretty good.

The track used to think fans were tiring of a single line of cars pushing each other out of the way. It increased the grip of the track so the cars could go up high to pass. Then fans stopped coming.

But if it's about entertainment, Busch is fine with giving fans entertainment.

"It's too bad to see them change a perfectly good racetrack that promotes good side-by-side racing for a lot of the event," he said. "Last fall, Joey Logano and I raced each other side-by-side for the last 15 laps before we were banging doors in (Turns) 3 and 4 coming to the checkered. In 2008, Carl Edwards and I were running into each other and everything else there. There's been a lot of good racing at Bristol. It's not the 'move-the-guy-out-of-the-way, spin-somebody-out' atmosphere anymore, and if fans want to see wrecks, then I guess we have to wreck more."

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