BMS to change track surface

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 28, 2012 at 6:53 PM

The race fans have spoken.

After more than a week of studying fan input, Bruton Smith, Chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, announced Wednesday he has ordered the go-ahead to make changes to the track surface at Bristol Motor Speedway. He added the work will be completed before NASCAR returns to BMS in August.

Since the track went through a resurfacing project in 2007, there has been a significant decline in the rough-and-tumble action which the track was known for.

An estimated crowd of 102,000 was in attendance for the Food City 500 on March 18. It marked the sixth straight race which the 160,000-seat facility failed to reach a sellout for a Sprint Cup event. The Ford EcoBoost 300 for the Nationwide Series drew an estimated 55,000, less than half the fans for the same race 10 years ago, despite having Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the field.

In the aftermath of the low attendance, Speedway Motorsports requested fans send in their opinions whether the track should remain as is, or to be resurfaced again.

“The race fans have spoken,” Smith said. “We had input that included a wide range of opinions. But the majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made. As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August.”

Fans have complained the track hasn’t been the same since Bristol was reconfigured in 2007.

The number of cautions have certainly declined. There have been 98 caution periods in the 10 races since the track was reconfigured compared to 144 cautions in the 10 races prior to the change. The five cautions for the March 18 event marked the lowest number for a Bristol race since 1996.

BMS officials declined comment on Wednesday, although Smith said an announcement regarding the scope of the work will be made soon. A formal press conference to introduce the changes is scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks.

“The question we wanted to answer as quickly as possible was ‘Is something going to be done?’” Smith said. “The answer to that is ‘yes.’ We will have the details in two weeks as to what that ‘something’ is.”

Drivers have been mixed in their opinions about the track surface.

It’s not surprising that Brad Keselowski, winner of the past two Sprint Cup races, would have an affinity for the new configuration.

“I don’t get all the hate for the new Bristol,” he said. “For me, I saw a lot of great racing, beating and banging, and side-by-side. I don’t know what’s better than that.

“I think this place got a bad label it didn’t deserve. From what I’ve seen the last year or two, it’s been great racing.”

Not all drivers agree.

Earnhardt said in his Food City 500 post-race comments that the racing has suffered since the change. Kevin Harvick was even more outspoken during last week’s pre-qualifying press conference at California.

“I like that rough-and-tumble type of racing,” he said. “I know a lot of the car owners and some of the drivers don’t like that style of racing. That’s what made Bristol what it is.

“People don’t want to watch cars ride around with no donuts on the doors and no caved-in fenders at Bristol. They don’t want to see a 200-lap, 150-lap green-flag run. That’s not what they come to Bristol for, and that’s why they quit coming.”

Smith hopes the changes will bring the fans back and help BMS reclaim its spot as the favorite track of NASCAR fans.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has been voted the most popular race track in the country more than a half-dozen times, even one of the 10 things you need to see before you die,” Smith said. “We aim to keep the status as the fans’ favorite.”

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