Drivers irked at not being consulted

Updated: April 27, 2012, 4:46 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Bruton Smith's decision not to seek driver input on how to fix Bristol Motor Speedway didn't sit well with several competitors in the Sprint Cup Series.

And not all drivers are convinced the decision by the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman to grind the top groove will return racing at the half-mile track in Tennessee to the bumping and grinding it was known for before the 2007 reconfiguration.

"I think they're wasting their time," points leader Greg Biffle said on Friday at Richmond International Raceway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. agreed.

Earnhardt Jr. I believe the racing will be the same ... Just grinding will take away a little groove, but once we lay a little rubber down it'll be just like it was, which I think is fine.'

-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I believe the racing will be the same," he said. "I know they probably didn't have a lot of time between now and (the August) race to do everything they wanted to do. Just grinding will take away a little groove, but once we lay a little rubber down, it'll be just like it was, which I think is fine."

Smith's decision not to consult drivers was the biggest issue. Biffle compared it to taking your everyday car to the garage for repairs and then being told you can't drive it.

"I don't know the word I want to use," he said. "We're the ones driving. We're the ones that know what it needs."

Kevin Harvick definitely took issue with Smith's comment during Wednesday's news conference that "I do not consult race drivers when I am building a speedway."

"They were all gung ho on wanting to meet at Texas," Harvick said. "The next thing you knew, nobody showed up, nobody called, nobody wanted to talk to anymore. I guess maybe they were embarrassed that they just wound up grinding it."

Harvick took a shot at retired driver Darrell Waltrip, who was consulted by Smith.

"Obviously, it didn't sound like Bruton wanted anybody's opinion that drives a car, so he went to Darrell," Harvick said. "We'll see how all that works out for him.

"When's the last time he drove at Bristol?"

Asked about Harvick's comments, Waltrip told ESPN.com by text message: "He (Smith) didn't want me to tell him what to do, just (if) what I thought they were doing would change anything."

Waltrip said Wednesday that while he hasn't competed at Bristol since the 2007 reconfiguration, he has driven the track in a racecar.

Harvick said he was told by Don Hawk, SMI's vice president of business affairs, that Smith wanted to discuss changes at Bristol with him at Texas. Hawk acknowledged that Smith wanted to meet with Harvick and his team owner, Richard Childress, and the meeting didn't happen.

Hawk said he apologized to Harvick and Childress via text. He added that several other drivers were contacted via text for input on the project, and that some responded and some didn't. He said Smith talked to Brad Keselowski by phone.

"I contacted Harvick and Childress in person and by text for a meeting with Bruton in Texas,'' Hawk said. "The meeting did not happen. I apologized to Harvick and Richard, I made the contact, it didn't happen, I take the bullet, period."

While skeptical the grinding will return Bristol to a one-groove track that requires drivers to bump others out of the way to pass, Harvick is glad something is being done.

"At least they're being proactive in trying to help fix it," he said. "I don't know exactly where all the grinders will have to wind up grinding the track.

"It's 50-50 as to whether that's the fastest part of the track or not. Hopefully, they grind the whole thing."

Biffle suggested that instead of grinding the top groove, Smith should grind the bottom groove to provide more grip so drivers can't easily pass on the high side.

"That's a better way of getting a better show," he said.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson noted that when Martinsville grinded the bottom groove it provided more grip. He agreed that drivers should be consulted, but added that when they were consulted at Phoenix, none of the ideas "were transitioned onto the track."

"There's a lot of drivers in the garage, including myself, that have made it known we're available for any meeting," Johnson said. "We love to give our opinions when asked. I wasn't asked on this one. I wasn't asked about Kansas."

Denny Hamlin isn't sure grinding the top lane will keep drivers from going two- and three-wide.

"I don't think it's going to be much different, to be honest with you," he said. "If anything, maybe the grinding will cause more grip and people are going to run up high anyways, so who knows what's going to happen.

"You want to fix it and make it a tough track, you need to pave it. Concrete is not the answer as far as that is concerned."

Earnhardt suggested recently that Smith should blacktop the track. He said he never discussed his ideas with Smith, and that didn't concern him.

"But it would have been comforting to know he spoke to a handful of drivers that raced on the track this past year," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt added that in his opinion, the low attendance at the March Bristol race -- only about half of the 160,000 seats were filled -- had more to do with high hotel and gas prices.

"It's just not as affordable to go to events as it used to be," he said. "They made the decision they feel is best for them, and I support it. But I believe the track will be similar."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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