BRISTOL — For the most part, Bristol Motor Speedway remains a one-groove race track.
While there were some passes for position early in Sunday’s Food City 500, the outside lane was clearly the fastest when the race was on the line.
Brad Keselowski did make the winning pass of Matt Kenseth on the inside on lap 390. However, when it came to making lane choice later in the race, there was little debate at which groove Keselowski would choose.
The track touts the “new Bristol” as featuring great side-by-side racing since the track was resurfaced in 2007.
There is some of it with Kasey Kahne winning a classic four-driver battle for the first Nationwide race on the new surface and Kyle Busch holding off Joey Logano by a mere .019 second, the closest finish in Bristol history, at last August’s Nationwide race. For the majority of NASCAR races, however, the outside line is such a great advantage that it saps any hopes of late-race drama.
Track owner Bruton Smith has taken notice of the lackluster racing.
In an interview with Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press on Monday, Smith said he is considering $1 million worth of changes to return the track the way it was before the reconfiguration.
When the track was resurfaced, the decision was made to have progressive banking. It changed the preferred line around Bristol from circling around the bottom to moving to the top.
Pole sitter Greg Biffle chose the outside to start the race on Sunday, as did every other driver leading on a restart other than Keselowski on lap 372. It was the same way the in the Ford EcoBoost 300 Nationwide Series race on Saturday when Elliott Sadler stayed out on the final pit stops and chose the outside to hold off Kahne and Keselowski on his final restart.
The strategy is a no-brainer as Sunday runner-up Kenseth knew what he would have done if the roles with Keselowski were reversed.
“If I had been on the top, maybe I could have pinned him down there,” Kenseth said. “That last run, I was just a little too loose. I could keep up, but that was about it.”
It’s really that way for anyone running the inside during the final laps. The best hopes seem to be simply to maintain position and not fall back in the pack.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who swept Bristol races on the old surface in 2004, doesn’t think the racing today is as good today as 10 years ago. Neither do the fans with NASCAR’s estimated attendance of 102,000 fans. It looked to be a generous estimate for a stadium that looked half full.
However, Earnhardt did offer a solution to the problem that doesn’t have to do with the repaving the track.
“I think Goodyear could pull some trickery with the tires and improve the racing,” he said. “Goodyear really holds the key to improving this surface and this configuration. Aside from digging it up and trying again, they’re going to have to move the tire around a little bit to see if that will affect the racing.”
It might not be an issue by August.
Smith told Fryer that the fans will dictate whether changes are made.
“I want to be sure that the fans like what they see,” he said. “If the fans like three abreast through the turns, we do nothing. If they don’t, then we’ll alter the track. The fans vote is the most important thing.”
From the looks of Sunday’s crowd, it looks like many of them have already voted by staying home.
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.