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NASCAR Drivers Discover A Different Bristol During Tire Test

Several NASCAR drivers got their first look at the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test, and what they discovered is exactly what track owner Bruton Smith hoped would happen.

Smith ordered his engineers to grind down the top lane of the track, and the drivers found it to be so slippery that Bristol has essentially been reduced from a three-groove track to two.

"Well, you've definitely lost the top groove," said Tony Stewart, who was the only driver to try and run the high line at the test. "Guys who run up there aren't going to be able to do that because it's pretty slick up there. There's going to be less room to race, that's for sure."

And less room to race means increased likelihood for the beating and banging that Bristol was known for. Many fans were upset after the March Bristol race produced lots of passing but few cautions.

Taking away one-third of the racing room should make for "a lot closer racing than we've had here in the past," Clint Bowyer said.

"The closer we have to race just means something's going to happen," Bowyer said. "Is it going to make fans happy? Well, narrowing up the track means less room to get around, so there's no question there's going to be closer action."

Bristol left the bottom two-thirds of the track untouched, but had grinders take off several inches of the banking up near the wall. Now it's useless for drivers to run that high, because they'd only lose time and possibly lose control of their cars as well.

"Tony experimented and tried out that top groove, and I know he won't be trying that again," Jeff Burton said.

So will fans be happier now that there's the potential for more action at a track once known for tempers and wrecks? It depends what they want, Burton said.

"If people liked the older track more than the new, they are going to like this," he said. "This takes the top groove out and brings it back toward the old track. Taking the groove out moves the track closer to what it used to be.

"... This track always has been different. Fans always want to see action here. That is why pressure is always put on this track."

Said Bowyer: "This place has always been – and will always be – far and away the best race we have. You wanna see a great race in the best atmosphere we have? Just be here in August."