Analysis: Are Bristol's changes fair to all and does it really matter?

Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway efforts to improve the lower groove of its racing surface this weekend has brought up an interesting conundrum.

Analysis: Are Bristol's changes fair to all and does it really matter?
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Air Titan at work
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford, Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford

While the change may be beneficial to the quality of racing seen on the track (in some people’s opinions at least), is it fair to all competitors?

The addition of the VHT resin to enhance grip was added only to the lower groove of the racing surface. In effect, it stems as an effort to “force” drivers to use the lower groove.

Many fans and some drivers believe the change helps return to the Bristol of old, when the lower groove was the preferred line and to advance positions on the track, drivers many times had to resort to a “bump-and-run” maneuver.

But the repaved and reconfigured Bristol provided the ability of drivers to run the high line if they could make it work, and many did. And many were amazed at the two and occasionally three-wide racing that would sometimes result on the short track.

That type of racing, however, had an intended consequence – the number of wrecks dropped as the need to “move” people out of the way to pass them was reduced.

Brad Keselowski, who has had his share of success at Bristol, was asked this weekend if tracks should apply changes evenly to a surface, so as not to provide a specific advantage.

"It's not meant to be fair"

As is typical, Keselowski provided an insightful and thought-provoking response.

“I think when we went to double-file restarts I think we said, ‘To be damned with parity and fairness.’ Those days are gone and now,” he said. “It’s just about when you don’t have the preferred lane, you’ve got to make the most of it and you’ve got to try to get through it with the smallest penalty possible.

“When you do have the preferred lane, you’ve got to eat. That’s just become part of this sport. It’s not really about being fair.”

But should tracks attempt to balance the effects of their changes?

Keselowski replied, “It’s not meant to be a fair sport, just a sport.”

And he’s right.

How many times have we’ve been told that life just isn’t fair?

In fact, George Orwell once wrote, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

I don’t think NASCAR racing, or even most professional sports, are anywhere near as bad as Orwell contends. Others may disagree.

Being fair to all

But the idea every rule or decision by a sport’s governing body are intended to be fair to all involved is silly.

For every change, there are some who benefit and some who will struggle. Some teams or players simply adapt to change better than others, regardless of what issue is involved.

That’s part of the game.

The game itself – whether football, baseball or racing – is always changing.

NASCAR fans complain a lot about the frequency of changes in their sport, but new ideas are being floated in virtually every sport every day – some for competitive reasons, some to improve how the sport is presented to fans in person or on TV.

My late colleague at The Charlotte Observer, David Poole, had a famous saying when fans would complain about a NASCAR decision not being fair in their eyes.

His response, “Fair is where you go to get funnel cakes.”

It still is.

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