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New Goodyears have drivers scratching their heads, and worried this may be a crash-filled 500

 Clint Bowyer says he's ready for some rootin' and gougin' this weekend at Bristol (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Say you liked the 'old' Bristol, with all that bumping and grinding, that rootin' and gougin', the good ol' bump-and-run?
   Well, you might get your druthers here this weekend, in Friday night's Nationwide 250 and Saturday night's 500.
   That's the prediction from a number of drivers, including Clint Bowyer.
   This new, wide and smooth concrete has drawn praise from drivers since the 'repave' in 2007, because this once-notorious one-groove track has become more like a regular track, where drivers can find another groove for passing.
   However that has changed the nature of the game here, and not every Bristol fan has been pleased.
   Judging from what drivers were complaining about here Friday afternoon, on a warm sunny day, there could be more than just a few yellow flags.
   Goodyear has some new tires here, and Friday night's Nationwide race will be closely watched, as was Wednesday's Truck race.
   So far drivers and crew chiefs are having mixed feelings about the changes.
   Not that anyone is anticipating any problems, just that drivers generally were complaining their cars were too loose, especially coming off the corners.
   "I saw a lot of guys struggling to get rear grip," Jeff Burton says.
   "But until you put down 50 laps straight, you won't know what you've got," Carl Edwards says.
   "Right now the track seems to be very 'line' sensitive, so I think you'll see a lot of different grooves these next two nights."
   Throw in another angle, Bowyer says: "If you treat this place conservatively, it's going to bite you, it's going to get you in trouble.
    "And it's going to be hard to beat that momentum of being in the outside line...."
   Kurt Busch learned that ruefully in the spring, having the best car but 'drawing' the wrong lane for the final restart with 10 to go, and losing to Jimmie Johnson – who over the season has become almost his arch-enemy.
   The compound here is similar to that first used at Indianapolis to help rubber-in the track quickly (fallout from the 2008 tire problems). And Goodyear has begun using that at other tracks too, like Dover and here, first time in the spring. 
   The concept seems to work at Indianapolis, with the tire compound helping fill in the grooves peculiar to that track.
   However at other tracks, like here, the compound, according to Matt Kenseth, seems to 'slime' up the track and makes it harder to pass.
    Kurt Busch says Goodyear's change in tires is easy to figure out: "A lot of guys were marginal on tires here in March, a lot of blowouts."
   The new tires have a different feel, that's for sure. Goodyear officials say the big change in tires is the design -- a "tougher" tire, for more durability, and based on the California-type tires. Bristol, from a tire standpoint, is a speedway, not a short track, so Goodyear uses speedway designs.
   "But the tires are dropping off (in speed), and that's good, because you'll have to stop for tires (more often)," Steve Hmiel, general manager for Chip Ganassi's Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, says.
   However Bob Osborne, who runs Edwards' team, says he's not seeing much drop-off in speed. "We'll have to see how the Nationwide races goes," he says.
   "This tire is just a lot different than what we had in the spring, and we're trying to figure out what the tire wants," Joey Logano says.
    Kenseth pointed out: "In Wednesday's Truck race Kyle Busch (the winner, from the rear of the field) stopped only once, at 30 laps (in a race that went 206 laps)."   
    Kurt Busch has an interesting thought about it. "I didn't know they'd even changed the tires until Tuesday," Busch, who was so strong here in the spring, said. "And we didn't get to do the tire test, so that's a slight disadvantage."
   Busch, after losing the March 500 to Johnson, fumed "I'd rather lose to any of the 41 cars out there than the 48 (Johnson).
    "I thought we had them beat. We just ended up in the wrong lane for that last restart.
     "I poured my heart out trying to beat Jimmie....and then to lose....that's what is upsetting."
   So Kurt Busch says he's going to try some different strategy this time: "It's so important to start (and restart) in the outside lane here, that when you come off pit road, if you need to, hit the brakes and let someone pass you, so you can get an outside spot on the restart."

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    Wednesday night's Truck race may have been a harbinger of things to come at Bristol (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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