Test indicates 'old' Bristol is back

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bristol Motor Speedway's attempt to bring back the bumping and banging fans have missed the past few years is a success if Tuesday's Goodyear tire test is any indication.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith ordered the top lane grinded in late April after a large number of complaints from fans who were dissatisfied with the two- and three-wide racing during the March 18 Sprint Cup race at the half-mile track in Tennessee.

That about half of the 158,000 seats were filled at what a few years ago was the toughest ticket in NASCAR also prompted the quick response.

Early results from Tuesday showed the top groove that came into play when the track was repaved and reconfigured in 2007 has all but been taken away.

"Well, you've definitely lost the top groove," three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart said after the first of a two-day test that included Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. "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. We've gone from a three-groove track to two grooves, and any time you've got less room to get around, it can get pretty interesting."

Interesting, SMI officials hope, means there may be more need for drivers to bump competitors out of the way to pass as fans were accustomed when the series returns to Bristol for the August night race.

"That outside line -- the upper groove -- is out of play now," Bowyer said. "There's going to be a lot closer racing than we've had here in the past. I don't typically run up there, but a lot of guys do and I can't see them going up there now.

"The closer we have to race just means something's going to happen. 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.''

Burton agreed.

"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. There is no way you will run around the outside.

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