Race at Bristol Postponed Until Monday


Published on April 24 2017 6:19 am
Last Updated on April 25 2017 6:23 am


Everyone could agree on one thing Sunday as far as the surface at Bristol Motor Speedway:

It was wet.

Beyond that, opinions vary on the attempts of Bristol track officials as far as adding a resin with tire rubber ground into it in order to have a solid groove on the bottom. They tried it last summer and it worked pretty well.

The goal: Return Bristol to its glorious history of drivers rattling each other's cages on the bottom lane.

The more likely reality is Bristol will never be Bristol again. And it symbolizes the struggle of the sport as a whole -- trying to grasp a new reality while trying to see what it can do to replicate the glory days of NASCAR's rise from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s.

Bristol, and the sport, would have benefited from a great race Sunday, but Mother Nature had other plans of any attempt at that thanks to a steady rain and a dire forecast that had NASCAR throwing in the towel early. The race is now scheduled for 1 p.m. ET Monday.

A barometer of the health of the sport, Bristol is in a tough position. It seats 146,000 (including suites) and it fills most of those for its August night race. The spring race doesn't fill up, and without a football game to enhance the season-ticket package this year, that likely would have impacted attendance. While other tracks decrease capacity, in part to make it look better and increase urgency to buy tickets in fear of potential sellouts, Bristol won't do much because its August crowds remain solid.

Those crowds come for the spectacle, and Bristol has tried to recreate its biggest spectacle. Last year, by putting the resin into about half a lane in the lower groove, drivers found the bottom lane to their liking. But drivers such as Kurt Busch spun out after getting tricked up by the transition.

To maybe increase the ability to run at the bottom, Bristol officials appear to have widened the width of what they put down on the lower groove as well as using the machine that grinds tire rubber into the track. Some drivers felt that made it better -- but better to them meant easier to drive.

Others didn't seem enthused.

"I thought that was a good width [in August] because you could get your left sides in it and you really had to be cautious of hitting your marks every corner," said series points leader Kyle Larson, who will be on the pole Monday as the field was set by owner points. "Now it's like you just fire off from the corner and it doesn't really matter where you enter -- as long as your right sides are in the grip, you are going to rip around the corner.

"It just makes it too easy for us [now], and I don't think that is good for racing."

Larson loves the top lane, and he proved in the Xfinity race that if a driver had a setup he liked, the top lane would certainly be the preferred groove. The other aspect was that the traction compound was chewing up tires, and under caution, drivers' tires picked up much of the rubber fragments. It also seemed to lack consistency, thanks likely to intermittent practice and rain.

Another difference: In August, the trucks and modifieds race Wednesday with an Xfinity race Friday, creating much more opportunity to add rubber to the surface and work in grooves by the time of the race Saturday night.

The Xfinity race Saturday at Bristol did feature a bump-and-run as Erik Jones, much faster than Ryan Blaney, used his bumper to move him in what Blaney said was just a racing move as he was trying to hold off Jones. While it appeared to be a little bit of old Bristol, it wasn't true Bristol with drivers angry with each other. The only fight was between two drivers not well known, two drivers known to be friendly in Jeremy Clements and Ross Chastain.

That quick fight wasn't even captured on video to at least enhance the track's rough-and-tumble image.

When will the luck change? Maybe it is just easy to get depressed in the rainy weather. It sucks for fans who empty their wallets for what they had hoped would be an electric weekend.

The race Monday -- hopefully, the forecast of the rain clearing out by the afternoon is accurate -- probably won't have an impressive crowd with it being postponed a day and a forecast in the previous several days that rain was coming. A forecast that predicts rain a week out has a huge impact these days as fans make ticket-purchasing decisions much closer to race day than they did during those glory days.

When NASCAR returns to Bristol in August, Monster Energy hopes to have MMA fights at its display outside the track. One of the fighters likely will leave battered and bruised.

But the fighter will end up back in the ring, with resolve and improving technique determining whether the fighter gets knocked out again. Much like NASCAR these days, the hits seem to keep coming. But just like a fighter who has to decide maybe to work on agility or strength or anticipating the opponent's next punch, NASCAR has worked to improve with stages and a new aero package.

The aero package doesn't have much impact at a track such as Bristol, but the stages could. NASCAR hopes to have three races in one Monday, a race to Lap 125, a race to Lap 250, and the final race to the finish. That's more opportunities for a bump-and-run (a la Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Kyle Busch at the end of the second stage at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago), ruffled nerves and SportsCenter highlights.

At some point, the sun will rise over Bristol. The sport could use some sunshine sooner rather than later.