BRISTOL, Tenn. – With a two-handed toss of his helmet, Tony Stewart brought back everything that had been missing at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It was the rock ’em, sock ’em style of racing that made the Tennessee bullring the toughest ticket in NASCAR and fans fill the place for 55 consecutive races hoping to see bumping and banging on the track and the off-track drama it created.
Progressive banking added in 2007 diluted the action, and fans turned their backs on Bristol. A disappointing crowd in March was the final straw for track owner Bruton Smith, who ordered changes to the track surface in the hopes the action would pick up and the fans would return.
He got exactly what he wanted Saturday night, even if his idea didn’t go exactly according to plan.
Tempers flared again at Bristol – the boiling point coming when Stewart heaved his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car after the two wrecked racing for the lead – and the action picked up enough to satisfy most fans.
Five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon thought Saturday night looked a lot like old Bristol.
Even though it was really tough to pass, it just reminded me of old school Bristol, Gordon said. I think it was a success and I certainly had a lot of fun.
Believing the progressive banking had created too many lanes, Smith ordered the top groove to be ground down at Bristol. His desired effect was a tighter track that forced drivers to run around the bottom and use their bumpers.
Denny Hamlin, who picked up his first Bristol victory, thought the racing was similar to years past.
We were all running in a line and just waiting on the next guy to screw up to get around, he said. That’s what you had with the old Bristol. That’s how we had to race. I don’t think we saw as much side-by-side racing, but you didn’t see side-by-side racing with the old Bristol. You just saw a bunch of cars in line waiting on someone to get knocked out of the way or mess up and that’s the same thing we had.