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Hey, Bruton: Thinking asphalt?

  Bristol: And Bruton Smith wants to do just what at this Tenneessee track before NASCAR returns in August? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern


   Asphalt Bristol?
   Hey, now that's an idea.
   Who knows what might be lurking in promoter Bruton Smith's fertile imagination, but why not asphalt?
   Well, finding someone here in the Martinsville Speedway garage who remembers what Bristol was like when it was an asphalt track – it was rebuilt in concrete for the 1992 season – is darned near impossible.

   And remember those ol' smokin' bias ply racing days? Finding anyone here who also remembers racing on Bristol asphalt during the old days of bias ply tires, well, fat chance.
   Smith has decided he wants to redo Bristol – somehow – in time for the Sprint Cup tour's August 25th Saturday night 500.
   Maybe asphalt?

   The toughest ticket in NASCAR used to Bristol Motor Speedway's logo.
   And Smith wants to wrestle it back, hence his plans, still nebulous, to redo the track over the next three months.
   Drivers have mixed feeling.


    Matt Kenseth celebrating his Daytona 500 win, by promoting San Francisco's June NASCAR stop (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  


   Kevin Harvick says he warned Smith five years ago when the track was redesigned "that it's not the same Bristol."
   So about Smith changing Bristol, Harvick says "It's about time. Sometimes bigger isn't always better, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
   "That's a prime example of the grass isn't always greener.
   "Sometimes you can't make things better than they are.
    "I'm proud of them for realizing they have a problem.
     "A lot of guys would argue that you can change the tire…you can change this or that. But you're still not going to have bent race cars and donuts on cars.
    "The things people expect from Bristol still won’t be there unless they put it back to how it was.
    "After the last race there, I think they finally realized what I've told them since the first day after the first race. They didn't like to hear it, but it just wasn't Bristol.
     "Hopefully they will do a good job.
     "Don't get me wrong; they had great intentions and tried to make things better.
       "Sometimes when you can take that kick in the gut and say 'Well, we screwed up…..'
     "And basically that is what they're saying.
      "Starting to backpedal a little is something you've got to respect from Bruton. They just said 'Okay, we're going to fix this and make it right for the race fans.'
     "They know what the fans want to see. They had the most popular race for I don't know how many years…"



Jackie Stewart? No, Kevin Harvick, jaunty. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Dale Earnhardt Jr. says asphalt at Bristol "would be incredible.
    "I am not sure if that would work out, but it would be awesome to try it.
    "I don't know if they go all the way to reconfiguring the track to the old style; I am not sure it will work perfectly.
    "I don't know how that is going to work out. But I am afraid the odds of them getting it right aren't in their favor.
     "But we are all pulling for them.
     "Anytime someone asks 'Where should I watch my first NASCAR race?', the answer always is Daytona 500 or Bristol.  
     "And if they go to Daytona, you still have to tell them to go to Bristol -- because you haven't seen anything like that and never will."
    Earnhardt says he's not sure Smith really needs to mess with the track: "They could work a little bit on the tire and see if that made a difference. 
     "The tires are the number one component connecting the cars to the track. I think that is an under-appreciated part of the puzzle."


     NASCAR's most popular says laying asphalt at Bristol would be awesome (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Matt Kenseth says "If it makes the fans more excited about it, that's always a good thing.
    "I'm not sure you can put the track exactly back how it was, and have the racing exactly back to how it was. There are a lot of other moving parts.
    "But I'm all about side-by-side racing and being able to pass.
     "I thought the passing was actually a little better this time. They did some patchwork off turn two, which made the top a little slicker, and
it seemed like there was more side-by-side racing than last season.
    "But whatever Bristol looks like when we get there, we'll try to adapt."

   Slugger Labbe, Paul Menard's crew chief, is one of the few here who remembers Bristol the way it used to be:
   "It will be interesting to see what they do; back then the racing was really good…." Labbe said, with caveat: "But they did have tire issues back then; we were blowing right-fronts every 40 laps.
   "But Goodyear has gotten smarter since then.
   "Yeah, the 'old Bristol' was cool, but we might have outgrown it.
   "You have to watch what you wish for – if they repave the race track, will it make for better racing, or just a bunch of torn up race cars? That's the question."

   Michael Waltrip is one of the few to have raced at Bristol under all its various configurations.
   "I commend him for the effort," Waltrip said. "People have said they don't like the racing as much, and they want to see some more action.
    And I can't wait to see what the does. 
     "The cool thing about Bristol was you just sat there and watched, and you'd see one car holding up 10, and you'd hit your buddy: 'Watch this.'
     "And he would get hit -- and either crash or get out of the way. 
     "Now you go around them.
     "The racing is fun for me to watch, because I know how hard it is. But it's not full-contact, and that's what people want. 
     "I don't know how he thinks he's going to do it…but it will be pretty fun to see."



Just what lurks behind those glasses? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   What precisely Smith might have in the works is still under wraps.
   "Bruton says he's talking with his engineers," NASCAR's Robin Pemberton says. "Our only concern is that what he does there is done in time for us to be able to test on it."
   Goodyear's Rick Heinrich says he too "is waiting to see what the plans are."
   Heinrich says his engineers would need time not only to test the 'new' Bristol but also then build several thousand new tires for the NASCAR weekend. A bare minimum would be 45 days, which means whatever Smith does, if anything, would have to be finished by early July.
   Maybe all Smith really needs to do is put a few big bumps in strategic places on the current concrete. But then one of the sport's engineers points out that those odd 'patches' in turn two at Bristol for this past race certainly did a job of upsetting the cars, by making them very squirrelly on the corner exit.
   Why is Bristol in concrete anyway?
   Because several times during the late 1980s and early 1990s the asphalt there simply got chewed up under the intense pounding of these stockers.
   And that was during the infamous tire wars between Goodyear and Hoosier, when 'softer' may have been faster but right-sides were increasingly vulnerable.
   But Heinrich points out that the development of new asphalt polymer compounds the past eight years has led to amazing racing surfaces.
   "Look at Darlington," Heinrich says, of a classic case, similar to Bristol.
   Darlington was repaved in 2008 and Goodyear came up with a solid tire for the suddenly stunning 200 mph corner entry speeds. And the Darlington asphalt has held up remarkably well, Heinrich points out.
   Plus Bristol's banking isn't nearly as severe as Daytona's, which holds up well too.
   Heinrich says there would be no problem in Goodyear coming up with a satisfactory tire compound for any new Bristol asphalt.
   "One of the key characteristics of these new generation asphalts is 'low wear, high grip,'" Heinrich says.
   "Darlington would seem to be one of the more challenging cases, but its asphalt has held up very well.
   "I'm sure the (possible new) asphalt would generate a bunch of grip. But I'm sure we have something in our portfolio that we could use as a control tire, starting point."
    Bias ply tires? With those floppy sidewalls, and smoke boiling off the rear of the cars coming off the corners.
   "Our technology has evolved far beyond bias ply tires," Heinrich says.
   Still, Goodyear will have bias ply racing tires for Bristol….for the K&N series there.

NASCAR's Robin Pemberton (R) and Goodyear's Greg Stucker. Tires shouldn't be an issue if Bruton Smith repaves Bristol, Goodyear says. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Bristol the way it should.

Bristol should have never been changed. Multi-grooved racing is total crap! All those stupid 1.5 mile D shaped tracks are FREAKING DULL. And They wonder why fans are not showing up. Bristol was perfect but somehow the "new fans" got their way. Racing is not for nice guys. You are either a driver or a product endorser. We need more drivers and tough tracks. Bring back the old Bristol!

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