Commentary

Better surface doesn't necessarily mean better racing

Where was the banging? Where were the blowups? Short-track mayhem never materialized on the new and improved Bristol Motor Speedway half-mile. And that's too bad, writes David Newton.

Updated: August 26, 2007, 1:34 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Dale Jarrett raised his hand and thanked the men responsible for resurfacing and restructuring Bristol Motor Speedway as the driver's meeting before Saturday night's Nextel Cup race came to an end.

He said they made the circuit's most exciting track even more exciting for the fans.

Others nodded in approval.

Those watching from the stands or on television were lucky they didn't nod off during the ensuing 500 laps.

The new and improved Bristol received rave reviews after the Truck and Busch Series events offered none of the typical pushing and banging that sends tempers flaring and keeps fans on the edge of their seats as the old one-groove track did.

Sure there was more passing as two and sometimes three grooves opened up.

But Carl Edwards' victory, which he called the "coolest win of my life," was anything but exciting.

Some might call it boring.

Yes, Jeff Burton, boring.

Burton didn't appreciate it on Friday when it was suggested last year's race was boring because drivers battling for a spot in the Chase were so careful they lost some of the aggressiveness that makes this half-mile haven in the Tennessee hills the hottest ticket in NASCAR.

"If you think a race is boring here, I'm not even going to talk to you," Burton said, interrupting the question before it could be finished. "That's a ridiculous statement.

"You just said there's a boring race at Bristol. Next question."

Approached before the driver's meeting to defend the question, Burton remained firm in his belief that there can't be a boring race at Bristol.

"What you're saying is that if there's not a lot of wrecking then it's boring?" he said.

Well, yeah!

People don't come to Bristol to watch what they'll see in California next week. They come to see drivers get heated as Ward Burton was a few years ago when he tossed his heel pads into the cockpit of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car after Earnhardt spun him out battling for 12th.

"I've got some really good words for him that I can't say, but I can't say any of them on TV," Burton said at the time. "I wish I'd have had something I could have shot through that window."

They come to see action like there was in 1995 when Rusty Wallace slammed a water bottle against Dale Earnhardt's head after Earnhardt slammed him into the wall and was black-flagged by NASCAR.

That same race Earnhardt slammed Terry Labonte just before the finish line to send Labonte sliding to the win in a spray of sparks.

They come to see how four years later Earnhardt banged Labonte's bumper so hard on the final lap that Labonte spun out to give the "Intimidator" another notch in his belt.

They don't come to see two drivers lead 487 of 500 laps as second-place Kasey Kahne (305) and Edwards (182) did.

This one was so boring that a fan sent an e-mail during the race and signed it "Bored fan."

"Was it me or was the Bristol race boring?" wrote Rod Crawford of Bristol. "The old Bristol was much better. Sure, two wide, but no wrecks, no cautions. Just round and round.

"The history of wrecks is what people want to see at Bristol. Wrecks. Fire flying. Sparks. I have already turned it off and am watching a movie and playing on the Internet. Some of my friends have left the track and texted me to go eat."

The most exciting moment during the first 125 laps came when Johnny Sauter got into the wall and leader Kahne narrowly avoided hitting him.

David Ragan tried to keep it interesting down the stretch, spinning out three times over the last 132 laps to bring out caution and bunch the field back up. The second even got points leader Jeff Gordon back on the lead lap as the "Lucky Dog" recipient.

Ricky Rudd provided a few sparks when he spun with 48 laps remaining and collected Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

But overall tempers remained calm. Earnhardt was almost giddy after a fifth-place finish left him 158 points behind Kurt Busch for the final Chase spot with two races remaining.

Greg Biffle warned it might be this way, saying they turned Bristol into a miniature Dover. He said just because cars can go two-wide doesn't mean the racing will be better.

After finishing 10th, Biffle said, "It's pretty good racing, but it's not old Bristol."

No, it wasn't.

But as boring as it was to watch, the drivers loved it. Tony Stewart said he hoped the fans had as much fun watching as he did driving.

Bob Osborne, Edwards' crew chief, said they turned Bristol from a great to a spectacular track.

Earnhardt agreed.

"We don't like running into people all the time," he said. "Is that what y'all want to see?"'

Well, yeah!

But you can't blame the lack of slamming and banging on the track alone. The Car of Tomorrow also is responsible, because when a driver hit the car in front there was no spinout as usually happened with the old car.

"This car is solid," Bobby Labonte said after finishing eighth for his second consecutive top-10. "I got hit once and pulled away from the car."

Edwards said it will take a while "to shake out the field and see what teams at this track with these cars."

"The thing I'm excited about is that I heard Goodyear said they may bring back tires with more grip, which will make it more spectacular racing," he said.

So the drivers love the new Bristol. The fans aren't so sure.

"I don't know what it was like from the outside of the car to watch it, but at least from the inside it was fun," Stewart said after finishing fourth. "Guys were running over each other to pass each other.

"The most fun I've had at Bristol in my career. I can't give it a better grade than an A-plus."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

ALSO SEE