BRISTOL, Tenn. - It’s Bristol, and some things about that haven’t changed.
“You can do anything you want to it, and it’s still going to be Bristol,” Tony Stewart said. “It’s still going to be exciting.”
But there are fundamental differences in the track that hosts the Busch Series Friday night and the Nextel Cup Series on Saturday night in one of the season’s most anticipated events.
Immediately after Kyle Busch won the first race ever held with NASCAR’s car of tomorrow at this .533-mile track earlier this year, crews went to work transforming it.
They took away 1,815 cubic yards of concrete from the old surface, which any driver you talk to will tell you was rough and bumpy enough to rattle your bones. An additional 842 cubic yards of concrete walls were taken down, and more than an acre’s worth of asphalt – 275 loads in 20-ton trucks – was also taken away.
More than 3,000 cubic yards of concrete was put back for the new top layer of concrete. A layering process began with 6 inches of lime-treated stone on the bottom, then four inches of concrete, then steel rebar, then a 7-inch layer of reinforced concrete.
In all, more than 650 tons of rebar – roughly the equivalent of 382 Nextel Cup cars – were used to complete the project, including about 150 tons in the surface itself.
So while it’s still Bristol, everything is far from being the same.
“It’s completely different now,” Busch said. “There’s no aspect to that place that’s the same. We tested there in a truck and in a Busch car. It’s definitely going to be a different race, that’s for sure. I am definitely looking forward to it, not knowing what it will all entail.”
The new track is wider, 43 feet compared with 40 feet, and in addition to being significantly smoother it also has different transitions from the turns to its short straightaways and even a different shape to the track itself.
Since the most recent resurfacing was done back in 1992, the track had developed something of a crown giving it a convex shape. The new surface has slightly variable banking, with slightly more the higher drivers move up toward the outside wall.
That gives the surface more of a bowl shape, which track designers hope will make it nearly as fast to run one groove up as it is to run right around the bottom.
“We wanted a smoother surface with better transitions in the corners and I believe that’s exactly what we got,” track president Jeff Byrd said.
Fans will notice more changes, too. Pit road is now concrete instead of asphalt, and the pit stalls are 16 feet by 28 feet, making them 2 feet wider than they used to be.
While the Craftsman Truck Series got the race week kicked off on Wednesday night, with this weekend’s Busch and Cup races serving as the new facilities coming out party, the track held three late model race events in recent weeks to break things in.
Still, some of NASCAR’s biggest names are eager to find out what surprises the “new” Bristol might hold for them.
“I think it’s going to be like going there for the very first time ever,” Jeff Gordon said.
“With the new car, I think we learned enough the last time we were there that we should be able to dial the car in but it’s just going to be a whole new learning curve on the track this time around.”
CUP QUALIFYING RECORD: Ryan Newman, 128.709 mph, March 21, 2003.
MOST WINS (DRIVER): Darrell Waltrip, 12 (seven consecutive).
MOST WINS (OWNER): Junior Johnson, 21 (eight consecutive).
MOST WINS (MANUFACTURER): Chevrolet, 37 (Ford is No. 2 with 23).
Source: Bristol Motor Speedway