NASCAR track mogul Bruton Smith: time to redo Bristol? (Photo: Harold Hinson)
By Mike Mulhern
Now drivers are notoriously leery about tracks with new asphalt. But here Friday drivers continued to keep up the complaints about this surface, which has never been repaved.
Kasey Kahne, one of the favorites in Sunday's California 400, if he can avoid the trouble that has plagued him this season, says the sealant in the track's cracks is more slippery and dangerous than ever.
And then there is the question about this track's corner banking: it's only 14 degrees, compared to the 18-degree banks at sister track Michigan and 22-degree banks at sister track Texas World.
Perhaps Joie Chitwood, the Daytona track boss, and the man keeping a close eye on all the France family tracks for Kennedy, could weigh in on the issues that have dogged this place for some time.
After all, Los Angeles is the second biggest market in the United States, and it's the largest market that NASCAR actually plays in. And LA is one of the world's most important markets, and also a gateway to the Far East.
So this is not just another track on the tour.
However since Les Richter has departed NASCAR's West Coast scene, there has been the nagging sense that the sport's Daytona bosses simply aren't paying that much attention to ensuring major league success here. Is NASCAR/ISC satisfied with merely having a 'presence' out here, rather than a commanding presence?
People in this neighborhood, when questioned about the strength, or weakness of NASCAR's commitment here, point out several curious issues, including the absence of NASCAR companion tours here.
Lesa France Kennedy: time to redo California's Auto Club Speedway? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
A new issue, for NASCAR marketers to consider and debate, is the apparent disinterest of 'Millenials,' that generation of people born between 1981 and 2000 (many now approaching 30), in cars in general.
An entire generation of Americans not buying into the 'car culture' should be an alarming issue for NASCAR as well as Detroit.
How to deal with that, particularly in tough markets like this one?
Perhaps by bringing in other events on NASCAR weekends, like Supercross, with its strong appeal to the 18-24s. Supercross is very big out here, so much so that the tour holds five early season events in the LA-Phoenix-San Diego area.
And Daytona itself hosts an event during March Bike Week, so the sport is not unknown in NASCAR headquarters.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Before Bruton Smith changes Bristol Motor Speedway, Earnhardt says he should talk with drivers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
A new Bristol layout?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. only last weekend insisted there was nothing wrong with the current layout that couldn't be fixed with better tires.
Before Smith changes Bristol, Earnhardt frets "there are some drivers he ought to talk to about it.
"There were some things about that (old) race track that I liked -- One of the reasons it was so good was because the yellow line was about a foot off the apron, and they actually sealed underneath that yellow line. That provided grip for the left-front tire on the banking.
"That made a world of difference at that track, being able to get down there and use that.
"There were guys not smart enough to use that, and there were guys that were. And that made a difference between comers and goers, and made for great racing.
"It's not just the banking. It isn't ever just one thing.
"Whatever he decides to do, talk to the drivers, man. We are the ones out there running on it and can provide some insight.
"We don't have all the answers, but I'm sure we can give him some things they can improve on, if that is what they want to do."
Kevin Harvick: likes the idea of remaking Bristol...but not so keen about changing California's Auto Club Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, who won here last spring, sees some similarities between Bristol and this track:
"I think this is a lot different situation than what you had at Bristol," Harvick says. "In all fairness, everybody in Bristol was trying to make the race track better…and in the end it didn't work for them.
"The tell-tale sign of that was standing in the infield and looking at the crowd. It used to be years upon years of waiting lists.
"I enjoyed the old Bristol. I like that rough-and-tumble racing.
"I know a lot of car owners, and some drivers, don't like that style of racing.
"But that's what made Bristol what it was.
"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 green-flag run.
"That's not what they come to Bristol for. And that's why they quit coming.
"So in my opinion it's a pretty simple answer, a pretty simple scenario. When you take a risk like they took on changing the track with engineers, you're taking a big risk. Now they are going to pay probably the ultimate price; now they've got to change it back.
"As long as you're not scared to eat a little crow and reverse your decision, taking chances like that are okay.
"In the end, they were trying to make it better, and it just didn't work out."
Which is what fans have been saying about this particular track too.
However Harvick says as this track has worn, the action has become better: "I think just being patient with this track over the years has been the best thing -- The more the tracks wear out, the racier they get.
"This track has become really racy over the past few years, just for the fact the groove moves from the bottom to the top. And the track has become a little bit rougher; the asphalt has worn out. And the races have been good.
"Any time you repave a track, you're in trouble in my opinion. Because it's going to take a long time for the racing to get to the point where this track is, where you can race all over it."
Brad Keselowski, whose win last weekend was his second straight at Bristol, isn't enthusiastic about changing the layout:
"I think the track is as good or better as it has ever been.
"There are other ways to make the racing better. Everyone’s definition of what is a little different.
"But in my eyes, the track reconfiguration has helped the facility, to what otherwise could have been a worse scenario.
"You look at a track -- that I won't name -- that is of similar nature to the Northeast. And it didn't get reconfigured…and it has seen the same issues with attendance drops.
"The whole reconfiguration story doesn't go very far with me. Personally I think it's irresponsible, misinformed, and at best self-serving for any driver or media member who goes out there and criticizes the track.
"There are drivers that struggle there as the track has been reconfigured and have ulterior motives to point the figure at the surface reconfiguration instead of their own teams' performance.
"And I think there are media members that enjoy getting the extra attention and extra reads for talking about the track's surface. But I don't think it's an informed opinion, when you look at it objectively."
Kasey Kahne: the seams in the asphalt at California's Auto Club Speedway 'worse than ever.' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)