FONTANA, Calif.—- Dale Earnhardt Jr. had some advice for Bruton Smith: talk to the drivers before firming up plans to reinvent Bristol Motor Speedway.
It might be a good idea for Smith to talk to Goodyear, too, given that changing the tires at Bristol might be a far less expensive alternative to changing the racetrack.
Track owner Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said he was embarrassed by the turnout for last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at the .533-mile track.
Consensus was that the grandstands, which can seat 160,000 fans, were roughly half-full.
Possible solutions could a include to a return to the one-groove racetrack that disappeared with a 2007 reconfiguration that added graduated banking and opened the outside lane. Side-by-side green-flag racing replaced the typical Bristol bump-and-run, which inevitably led to a rash of caution flags.
Tires with more grip and faster degradation might change the complexion of racing at Bristol, if cars with new tires become significantly faster than those on old rubber. But Goodyear, NASCAR’s exclusive tire supplier walks a fine line in going to a softer compound.
If tires fail, Goodyear gets the blame for the blowouts.
“I think if we show up at Bristol with a tire that lays rubber down and is really soft, and it wears out… we need to get it back to where tires mean something,” said Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. “Nobody really ever comes in and takes four tires and blows the field anymore.”
The bottom line is that, if tires degrade rapidly, you’ll have cars running radically different speeds on the racetrack, and the mixture of speed and strategy should improve the action.
“I think Goodyear should really take a hard look at bringing a tire that falls off,” Almirola said. “I know it’s a tough road for them, because they don’t want tires that blow out, because then they’re the bad guys, and everybody points the finger at them.
“But if you have tires that fall off a second a lap, and you come in and get four tires, you’re going to pass people, and I think that would make it more exciting. But Goodyear’s in a tough spot. I would not want to have their job, because we’re always going to push the limits of what they give us.”