Bristol works to preserve sellout streak

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the first time in more than 13 years Bristol Motor Speedway is advertising tickets for a Sprint Cup race.

Tough economic times have forced many of the corporate partners that purchased blocks of seats not to renew for what is known as NASCAR's toughest ticket.

That puts Bristol's string of 53 consecutive sellouts in jeopardy for the March 22 race, all though general manager Jeff Byrd is optimistic the streak will continue based on the current sales pattern.

Byrd would not comment on the number of tickets available, but he was excited about the potential for fans that never have seen a Bristol race to attend.

"It's forced everybody in the industry to re-examine everything we do,'' Byrd said of the economy. "So in a way it's been a very healthy exercise for us.''

Bristol has 160,000 seats, including 197 skyboxes that are almost twice as many as most tracks on the circuit. The "World's Fastest Half Mile Track'' and Richmond International Speedway were the only two with a waiting list for tickets before this season.

"The economy is a concern to all of us, but it has probably impacted Bristol less than any other racetrack,'' Byrd said. "With the tickets we've sold already we're already assured the third- or fourth-largest crowd of the year, only depending on what the Sharpie 500 does in August.

"And I can pretty much tell you what that's going to do.''

The Sharpie 500, the summer night race at Bristol, has been even a tougher ticket than the spring race, despite the fact that only Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway have more grandstand seats. If one or both of Bristol's races sell out, the track could claim one or two of the biggest crowds of the season.

None of the first four races have been sellouts. Daytona came close, but track president Robin Braig said it would not be fair to call the Daytona 500 a sellout since many tickets were discounted and some were given away to track employees.

There were crowd estimates of 75,000 or less last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which seats over 125,000.

Byrd and others in the community have moved to guarantee more activities and driver participation at the track. The Friday night festival that typically took place in downtown Bristol has been moved to the track with more high-profile drivers than ever participating

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, for example, are scheduled to participate in "Rock Band.''

The cost for that and every any other event that day, including qualifying, is $5 or a specially-marked Pepsi can.

Following Saturday night's Nationwide Series race will be a Legends car race including NASCAR greats Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Harry Gant.

"[The economy] has caused us to look at value at every turn,'' Byrd said. "The total emphasis is going to be on the fans.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.