NASCAR: No place like Bristol

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2011

By Scott Adamson
Scripps Howard News Service
It seems odd that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series would take a week off after just three events. Driving 1,400 miles is taxing, of course, but I’m guessing most drivers were still feeling fairly fresh after Las Vegas.
Then again, maybe it is best to break before heading to Bristol Motor Speedway.
While Daytona features “The Great American Race” and there are other longer, faster tracks, it’s hard to find a better brand of racing than the kind fans see — and drivers experience — at this stock car theater on the Tennessee/Virginia border.
There’s nothing quite like it, from its scary-high banking to amphitheater setting to two pit roads and all-concrete surface.
Sit up high in the stands and you can see the whole race from flag to flag, not just portions of the track.
Simply put, it’s unique.
“It’s a fun place that you like going to,” Kyle Busch said before Sunday‚Äôs race. “We grew up in the bull rings at places like Winchester and Slinger and Salem. Those are high-banked — maybe not as banked at Bristol, but I enjoyed racing on them. They’re fun. You get a great feel for racing in a bowl, you go down a straightaway and slam into the corners then mash the gas, then sling out of the corners. It’s kind of an art racing at Bristol.”
There was a time when races at Bristol became demolition derbies. When a season ended and the caution flags were counted up, the “Bull Ring” always seemed to have that market cornered.
And until the “Lucky Dog” rule was implemented, it remained the only venue where a pilot could come from a lap down and have a legitimate shot at winning the race.
In 2007 the track was completely resurfaced, which resulted in a reshaping of the turns and widening the track by three feet. Gone was the 36-degree banking, replaced by 30-degree slopes.
Yet while drivers now have more wiggle room and don’t have to tilt sideways to negotiate a turn, the drama of the racing itself remains must-see TV.
“Bristol’s a lot different than it used to be,” Kevin Harvick says. “It’s got lots of room and there are lots of green flag runs. You have to take care of your car more than you used to.
“When you get there you’ll see if it’s high or low as far as the groove goes. You have a lot of options.”
Darrell Waltrip is the all-time Bristol wins leader with 12, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Cale Yarborough with nine checkers each.
Kyle Busch in 2010 became the first driver in history to win all three touring series events in a single weekend when he swept the truck, Nationwide and Cup races at the .533-mile bowl during the August event.
He now has four Cup wins at Bristol, tying him with Bobby Allison for eighth most in the 50-year history of the track.
Yet even a cocky guy like Busch can’t be too cocky when he’s zipping around the bowl.
“Some guys are really good at (racing at Bristol) and make it seem easy,” he said. “But I remember last spring we were horrible at it, so you can snap that string pretty quick.”