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Bristol Motor Speedway reconfigures banking

For years the toughest ticket in NASCAR was the circuit’s twice a season visit to Bristol Motor Speedway. They sold out 55 straight cup races.  The streak came to an end with the spring race in 2010.  They haven’t had a sellout since.

Following the March 2012 Food City 500, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith responded to the increasing fan expression of opinions regarding the style of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. The main focus of the reaction concentrated specifically on the races since the track resurfacing project in 2007.

After 10 days of listening to fan feedback, Smith announced changes would be made. Joined by Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith,  Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell and all-time Bristol win leader Darrell Waltrip, Mr. Smith announced the banking in the upper groove of the race track would be reduced to the same degree as the middle of the surface. The project was designed to eliminate the third groove as a viable option and create tighter racing.

Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race will be the first race since the track’s management reconfigured the banking in the turns to return the racing to the slam bang, fender-rubbing racing that had made Bristol Motor Speedway the toughest ticket in NASCAR for years. 

Bristol Motor Speedway initially changed its surface from asphalt to concrete prior to the August Night Race in 1992, nobody was really quite sure what to expect.

The iconic half-mile oval had been asphalt since its beginning in 1961 but as the track was reconfigured from 22 degrees of banking to nearly 36 in 1969, figuring out a way to keep that type of surface from coming apart became quite a challenge. As the years wore on issues with the asphalt continued to mount until finally, in 1992, former owner Larry Carrier, tired of the constant repaving and patching, made an epic decision: he was tearing the track up and replacing the old surface with concrete.

No other track that hosted NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series was, or had ever been, concrete. There were tracks that featured some concrete but when BMS had its facelift, the 1992 Bud 500 became the first Cup race ever contested on a completely concrete surface.

Fittingly enough, Darrell Waltrip, the all-time winningest driver at Bristol, notched his 12th, and final, victory in that race.

“We beat ol’ Dale (Earnhardt) for that win,” Waltrip recalls. “That was the first race on concrete, after they had switched from asphalt. A lot of guys didn’t like concrete, said it was too rough. Everybody said that the concrete would change everything for me, that I wouldn’t be as good.

“Well, that concrete didn’t change a thing for me because I went out there and won that race. That one meant a lot to me because people didn’t think I could win on that concrete.”

While Waltrip was the first to notch a win on concrete, Rusty Wallace was the most prolific. In 40 races contested on concrete, Wallace snagged six from 1993 to 2000. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch all have five wins apiece while Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski each have two.

It is no secret what the most exciting race on concrete was as far as fans are concerned. The top moment in BMS history, as voted by them, is the memorable 1999 victory by  Dale Earnhardt, during which he tagged and turned Labonte for the win.

|Brad Keselowski has won the last two Cup races at Bristol, which makes it, not so surprisingly, one of his favorite spots on the NASCAR tour.

“I love Bristol and Bristol loves me,” said Keselowski. “It is a great track that really demands 100 percent out of a driver and out of a team. I love racing on this concrete. This is an earn-it place. There ain’t no doubt about that.”

“It’s just a great place for me,” he said. “Getting my Nationwide win there (in March, 2008) was one of the greatest moments ever for me. And then winning the last two Cup races… well, I’m just really proud of that. Believe me, I’m perfectly happy to keep on winning at Bristol and I’m really looking forward to getting back there.”

You  may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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