Bruton Smith reserving judgment
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. is reserving judgment on whether more changes need to be made to Bristol Motor Speedway to bring back bang-bang excitement until after Saturday night's Sprint Cup race.
"We will do anything we feel we have to do," chairman Bruton Smith told ESPN.com. "Right now, it's an unknown."
The drivers predict an unpredictable weekend on the new surface at Bristol. Danica Patrick is doing double duty.
If Wednesday night's Truck Series race is a good indicator, grinding the top lane hasn't eliminated the two- and sometimes three-wide racing that fans have complained about since the track was reconfigured with progressive banking in 2007.
Timothy Peters led all 204 laps -- the first 82 were under green -- before a single-car incident brought out the first caution. There wasn't a time when a driver had to move another out of the way to gain position as was tradition before progressive banking.
Grinding the upper lane was intended to make racing tighter and create more of the beating and banging that Bristol became famous for when the track was the toughest ticket in NASCAR, selling out 55 consecutive races between 1982 and 2010.
It hasn't helped, according to tweets from several Sprint Cup drivers.
"Just as expected. Killing the top groove doesn't make the bottom groove any better," Martin Truex Jr. wrote on Twitter.
Responded Kevin Harvick: "One day they will listen."
Smith remains optimistic and refuses to call Saturday's race critical to the future of his track.
"No sir, I do not," he said. "Ticket sales are very, very good. We're projecting now we'll have 130,000 paid. That's like two Super Bowls. I don't think we need to stand up and complain about that. But, you give us a good economy again and we'll be back up at 160,000."
Seeing about half of the 160,000 seats filled in the spring race prompted Smith to make changes.
He didn't rule out initially returning the track to the way it was before progressive banking, but instead went with grinding the top lane.
As signs around Bristol said at the time of the grinding: "Fans spoke ... we listened."
Smith is open to listening again if he must.
"I think it'll be more exciting," he said of Saturday's race. "And the drivers are acting like it's going to be more exciting, too. I don't think we'll know until we run it."
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