FONTANA, Calif. — Should Bristol Motor Speedway be returned to its pre-2007 configuration to satisfy race fans’ apparent hunger for beating and banging?
That’s a question track owner Bruton Smith is expected to answer for the Cup series returns to the .533-mile track in August. After Bristol drew what Smith considered was a disappointing crowd for last Sunday’s Food City 500 — roughly half-capacity at the 160,000-seat facility — the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. said he was considering his options, up to and including a return to an earlier version of the track.
The resurfacing and reconfiguration of the concrete speedway in 2007, including the addition of graduated banking, opened the outside lane and made side-by-side racing possible. Before the change, drivers routinely ran the bottom groove and used their bumpers to gain positions.
Brad Keselowski, last Sunday’s winner, would rather not see Smith overreact to what he views primarily as an economic and aerodynamic issue.
“Yes, I do think it would be a knee-jerk reaction,” Keselowski said when that question was posed. “I don’t think you can make racing better every time by changing racetracks. I think they can do things to make them better. It’s going to come down to the teams, the drivers, the car setups and car design.
“I just think that what we’ve seen over the last 10 to 15 years . . . aerodynamics has taken over the sport and changed the racing. You’re not going to change that by making the tracks different.”
Kevin Harvick, on the other hand, would prefer a revival of the old Bristol.
“I enjoyed the old Bristol,” he said. “I like that rough-and-tumble type of racing. I know a lot of 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 (or a ) 150-lap green-flag run. That’s not what they came to Bristol for, and that’s why they quit coming.”
If Smith decides to change Bristol, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes he’ll seek input from drivers first.
“Whatever he decides to do, talk to the drivers, man,” Earnhardt said. “We’re 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 to improve on the situation, if that’s what they want to do.”