Bristol Motor Speedway is set to lose its progressive banking before NASCAR returns in August, track officials announced Wednesday.
Following decreasing crowds at one of NASCAR's most popular and unique venues, track owner Bruton Smith announced that the upper lane of the half-mile, high-speed oval will be modified, eliminating the increased, variable banking that had been in place since the track's latest repave in 2007.
A grippy concrete surface plus the progressive banking allowed drivers to race in different grooves since then, reducing the need for contact whereas the old surface didn't allow for so much side-by-side racing without some bumping and banging. Last month's Cup race at the half-mile oval drew a crowd of just over 100,000, less than two thirds of full grandstand capacity. The event had few incidents and only five caution periods waved for 49 of the scheduled 500 laps, a low figure by Bristol standards.
Smith said he based his decision on fans opinions, although Sprint Cup drivers were mostly against making any modifications, a number of them pointing at tire degradation as factoring in making the races dull.
"I said when this process began last month that I would listen to what the fans said they wanted," Smith said. "The fan feedback over the past month, along with input over the past few years, was the impetus for alterations to the track.
"Since March 28, when we announced that changes would be made, we have listened to fans, heard from drivers and talked to engineers about what to do and how much time we had to do it. Once we knew the direction, we located the right equipment to make it happen."
Three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who holds a record 12 victories at the track, suggested that despite the racing still being good at the Tennessee venue, fans preferred the old eventful Bristol carnage, over the current side-by-side racing.
"The problem with this racetrack is it has a reputation," said Waltrip. "It reminds me of a restaurant. This place was a meat and three (sides), that's what this joint was. You knew what you were going to get, the food was great, you left there full and you were happy. And then someone decided to turn it into a gourmet restaurant...
"The food in the gourmet restaurant is better than any food you can get in town but it's not what I want, it's not what I'm used to. What happened to my meat and three?"
Work has already started at the track with the grinding of the concrete of the upper lane. A number of Sprint Cup teams are expected to run in June during a Goodyear tire test on the new surface before NASCAR's national series return to compete Aug. 22-25.