Four years later and the argument over which form of Bristol Motor Speedway is better is as strong as it has even been since the track was repaved following the March race weekend in 2007. So, which version of Bristol is better? The old beating and banging style, or the new track that allows for side-by-side racing?
Bristol became famous for the beating and banging style that the single groove race track had for some many years. Events like Dale Earnhardt spinning out Terry Labonte at the line in 1995, or in 1998 when Earnhardt again spun Labonte but this time Earnhardt won the race, or in 2002 when Jeff Gordon used the bump and run to perfection on Rusty Wallace helped make the Bristol night race the hardest ticket in all of racing to get. Tempers used to clash just as much as sheet metal did. We saw Elliott Sadler punch the side of an ambulance in that same 2002 race and saw Ward Burton throw his ankle pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. One time Kevin Harvick leaped over Greg Biffle's car after the spring 2002 Busch series race ended to put the Biff in a a headlock.
But now even though there is less of the beating and banging that made Bristol famous, there is more actual racing. There is more side-by-side racing at Bristol than ever before. Drivers can run two and even three wide on the new progressive banking. There is still the carnage that was characteristic of the old pavement, but now there is more finesse used to get around the track. The new pavement has also given the drivers options because of the multi-groove banking. That is what the drivers want at a race track.
"From a guy sitting behind the wheel, you want options and opportunities to race. The track has that now," said Jimmie Johnson in a press release. "We almost have three lanes that you can run on around the race track especially as the race wears on and the groove gets pushed out. Behind the wheel, that is what we want. That is what we ask for. That is what they gave us."
Not many fans seem to see eye-to-eye with Johnson in that respect. It seems that many fans seem to prefer the old style of Bristol. They prefer the banging of sheet metal and the tempers flaring that came with Bristol before it was repaved, and it seems that ticket sales reflect that.
Bristol Motor Speedway had a sellout streak of 55 straight sold out races dating back to August of 1982 that ended in March of 2010. When the streak started, Bristol only had 33,000 seats. Now the track seats 160,000. Bristol had become the hardest ticket in all of racing to acquire and in the top-10 of all sporting events, but now you can still see commercials advertising that tickets are still available even just days before Saturday's race.
I personally love both styles of racing that has been seen at Bristol. I always loved the beating and banging style that made Bristol famous just like any other NASCAR fan. But since the track was repaved I have come to embrace the new form of racing. To see these guys go two and three wide on this half-mile track is just incredibe. The racing now is fantastic. The drivers have options. They can pass somebody low or high, or move them out of the way if they feel they have to.
My advice to anybody though is whether you loved the old Bristol and hate the new one, or love the new track, or just feel indifferent towards the differences, you have to get to a race at Bristol. There is nothing like seeing a race at Bristol Motor Speedway in person.