NASCAR drivers divided on proposed Bristol changes
If Bristol Motor Speedway goes back to its rough-and-tumble roots before NASCAR returns in August, the drivers say they'll be ready for it.
Even if some are more excited about it than others.
Owner Bruton Smith is thinking about restoring tighter lanes and getting rid of variable banking at the venerable half-mile track, essentially forcing drivers to return to the beating and banging that made its races so entertaining and volatile.
Before preparing Friday for qualifying at Auto Club Speedway east of Los Angeles, Kevin Harvick counted himself among the traditionalists who would love to mix it up again.
"I like that rough-and-tumble type of racing," Harvick 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 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, 150-lap green-flag run. That's not what they come to Bristol for, and that's why they quit coming."
Brad Keselowski, who won at Bristol last weekend while leading a career-best 232 laps, is equally emphatic in favor of the changes made in 2007 that allow smoother, cleaner racing.
"I think the race track is as good or better than it has ever been," Keselowski said. "I think there are other ways to make the racing better. Everyone's definition of what (to do) is a little different, but in my eyes, the track reconfiguration has helped the facility to what otherwise could have been a worse scenario. ... I do think that it would be a knee-jerk reaction."
Smith said earlier this week he would consider making $1 million in changes to respond to fans' concerns about the current setup at what is billed as the fourth-largest sports venue in the country.
Harvick thinks the current setup is behind declining attendance at Thunder Valley in recent years. The stands only appeared to be half-full last Sunday, although NASCAR announced an attendance of 102,000 in the 160,000-seat venue for what was once among the toughest tickets in sports.
"In all fairness, everybody in Bristol was trying to make the race track better, and in the end it didn't work for them," Harvick said. "The telltale sign of that was standing in the infield and looking at the crowd. It used to be years upon years of waiting lists. ... When you take a risk like they took on changing the race track with engineers, you're taking a big risk. Now they're going to pay probably the ultimate (price)."
Carl Edwards spoke for several drivers who reserved their opinions on the potential changes until Smith actually decides what to do, possibly as soon as next week.
"He can do whatever he'd like to do, and if it were possible to put it back just like it was, and he was willing to do it, then that's fine with me," Edwards said. "If the fans want it and they can do it, then my hat is off to Bruton for having the humility and the pocketbook to go out there and just say, `Hey, I'll do it.' That's pretty spectacular, I think."
Although fan sentiment appears to be leaning in favor of the changes, some drivers speculated that such extensive changes might cost much more than $1 million in practice.
And then there's Keselowski, who will let Smith know what he thinks - eventually.
"I never got his cell number," the Bristol champion said with a laugh.