When Bristol Motor Speedway changed its surface from asphalt to concrete prior to the August race in 1992, nobody was really quite sure what to expect. The iconic half-mile oval had been asphalt since its beginning in 1961, but as the track was reconfigured from 22 degrees of banking to nearly 36 in 1969, figuring out a way to keep that type of surface from coming apart became quite a challenge. As the years wore on issues with the asphalt continued to mount until finally, in 1992, former owner Larry Carrier, tired of the constant repaving and patching, made an epic decision – he was tearing up the track and replacing the old surface with concrete.
No other track that hosted NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series was, or had ever been, concrete. There were tracks that featured some concrete but when BMS had its facelift, the 1992 Bud 500 became the first Cup race ever contested on a completely concrete surface.
Fittingly enough, Darrell Waltrip, the all-time winningest driver at BMS, notched his 12th and final victory in that race.
"We beat ol' Dale [Earnhardt] for that win," Waltrip recalled. "That was the first race on concrete, after they had switched from asphalt. A lot of guys didn't like concrete, said it was too rough. Everybody said that the concrete would change everything for me, that I wouldn't be as good.
"Well, that concrete didn't change a thing for me because I went out there and won that race. That one meant a lot to me because people didn't think I could win on that concrete."
While Waltrip was the first to notch a win on concrete, Rusty Wallace was the most prolific. In 40 races contested on concrete, Wallace snagged six from 1993 to 2000. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch all have five wins apiece while Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski each have two.
It is no secret what the most exciting race on concrete was as far as fans are concerned. The top moment in BMS history, as voted by them, is the memorable 1999 victory by Earnhardt, during which he tagged and turned Labonte for the win.
Keselowski has won the past two Cup races at BMS, which makes it, not so surprisingly, one of his favorite spots on the NASCAR tour.
"I love Bristol and Bristol loves me," Keselowski said. "It is a great track that really demands 100 percent out of a driver and out of a team. I love racing on this concrete. This is an earn-it place. There ain't no doubt about that."
After hearing complaints from fans that the track's progressive banking had made the racing too tame, Bristol ground down the surface for this weekend's race. Steve Swift, senior construction manager for Bristol parent company Speedway Motorsports, told NASCAR.com that his team used data collected by video game producer EA Sports to recreate the previous banking configuration precisely.
"Because of the gaming industry today, you have a lot of data as to what the old track was," Swift said. "I think we achieved what we set out to do. What none of us know – and we're all anxious to see – is how the drivers and cars actually react to it.
"We can create amazing things, but until you put real cars on it, it's hard to tell what will happen. Tire tests are great, but until you get 43 cars out there, it's hard to tell what the final outcome will be."