BRISTOL — Bristol Motor Speedway was buzzing with action Tuesday and Wednesday as four NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers took part in a Goodyear tire test.
According to Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet, Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford, Casey Mears in the No. 13 Toyota and Regan Smith in the No. 78 Chevrolet, the time spent on Bristol’s high banks was valuable experience.
“Our objective here is to get a tire which works on the bottom and the top to make for better racing,” Ambrose said. “It’s a journey that we — the drivers, NASCAR, Goodyear and the track — all go down together. We all try to work to get the best combination.”
Tuesday’s test was low-key with Smith, a Chevrolet driver, and Mears, a Toyota driver, going over notes afterwards. Besides testing tires, it gave the teams a chance to work on their Bristol set-ups. For Smith, it gave his team a chance to fix the issues they fought at the IRWIN Tools Night Race in August when he finished 18th.
“We saw some cars at the fall race here that were able to run low,” Smith said. “Something we were working on with the Furniture Row car was to be able to run on the bottom and keep the speed up. That was an area we highlighted that if we could have done that, it would have helped us out at the end of the last race.”
Besides going after wins, Ambrose said non-Chase drivers like those testing at Bristol have a responsibility to carry the sport forward while their counterparts race for a championship.
“It’s good to come here and do the Goodyear test,” Ambrose said. “All the Chase contenders are focused on the championship right now, so we have to make sure we continue the progression of NASCAR with those guys focused on the championship.”
Smith added there is a premium on testing and teams want to be a part of it. He said tires are one of the key factors of testing at Bristol, especially since the track was reconfigured four years ago.
“As soon as they repaved it, it instantly put us in the middle of the top groove,” said Mears, who finished 23rd in August. “What changes it more is the tire we come back with. The set-ups the guys learned on the race car, even last year, changed for these last couple of races. Depending on what tire we come back with and what these teams develop, that’s probably going to be the biggest factor.”
Mears applauded the work of the Goodyear engineers in developing different tires for each track. Their work came into question during the March race weekend, when the track wasn’t taking rubber.
“They have one of the toughest jobs out there,” he said. “The loads these tires have here are unbelievable. When they miss it, it’s not hard to do. Obviously, they rebounded good and we had a good tire the last time here.”
n Do my eyes deceive me?
It looked like a Ford ruled this past Sunday’s Bracket 1 race at Bristol Dragway’s Super Chevy Show, but it was a Chevrolet engine under the hood of race winner Van Greer’s Ford Escort.
Greer, the son of former NHRA Funny Car Champion Shirl Greer, beat Tim Church of Wilkesboro, N.C. in the final round.
Brandon Bailey of Glade Spring, Va., took the win over Dandridge’s Corey Smith in Bracket 2, while Justen West from Dunn, N.C., drove his 1969 Camaro to victory lane in Sunday’s DOT action.
In Junior Dragster action, Chase Wagner of Willow Springs, N.C., defeated Roan Mountain’s Garrett Freeman in the Division 1 final, and Newport’s Tyler White got the best of Allison Eads of Bristol, Va., in the Division 2 final.
Other racing action included a monster truck match race and exhibitions by nitro-powered Pro Mods and Jet Dragsters.
Bristol Dragway concludes its 2011 season with Fas Mart Street Fights on Saturday. Racing begins at 1 p.m. and goes until 9 p.m.
n Bristol Motor Speedway will also be busy Saturday with the TruFuel Xtreme Speed Classic, an event featuring winged sprint cars from the Must See Racing Series.
Jason Blonde, set a new BMS lap record during the World’s Fastest Half-Mile Speed Trials in March. Blonde lapped the track in 13.245 seconds at an average speed of 144.871 mph, beating the previous track record held by the World of Outlaws’ Sammy Swindell by over six mph.
Besides qualifying, heat races and the sprint car feature, the afternoon also includes the Rolling Thunder Modified Touring Series, Street Stocks and Mod-4s.
Gates open at 1:30 p.m. for the Xtreme Speed Classic, with racing slated for 3:15 p.m. Adult tickets are $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the event. Children’s tickets are $3 in advance or $5 on race day.
The speedway also hosts the fourth annual Kid’s Expo, a free event, held in conjunction with the Sharky 500 fundraiser.
A number of activities will be held at the Kid’s Expo, including cornhole tournaments, an inflatable playland, and a Big Wheel drag race. Live entertainment will be provided by Daisi Rain, a local youth band.
The Kid’s Expo takes place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., while the Sharky 500 is set for 1 p.m.
n Allen Johnson’s NHRA championship hopes took another hit Sunday with a first-round loss to Kurt Johnson at the AAA Texas Nationals.
The Greeneville driver dropped to seventh in the Full Throttle point standings and now rides 198 points behind Pro Stock leader Jason Line.
Johnson will look to get his Dodge back on track this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania. Johnson and the rest of the NHRA tour will take the following week off before getting back at Phoenix with just three races remaining in the 2011 season.
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org