BRISTOL, TENN - "It is still Bristol," is the re-occurring thought vocalized by Team Chevy drivers as they prepare for their assault on the .533-mile high-banked concrete oval for round 24 of the 36 races on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series ...
BRISTOL, TENN - "It is still Bristol," is the re-occurring thought vocalized by Team Chevy drivers as they prepare for their assault on the .533-mile high-banked concrete oval for round 24 of the 36 races on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule.
Following the March 2007 event, the surface of the legendary track was removed and a completely new concrete track emerged. Although no major changes were made to the track, variable banking was added to the turns to help smooth the transition to the straightaways and the track is also three feet wider now.
"Thunder Valley" has always been a race where the results have had significant point standings implications. It is a very fast track, things happen quickly and there is just nowhere to go when trouble happens immediately in front of the driver.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, leads active Bowtie drivers with five victories on the "old" Bristol. As the only driver locked in to the Chase for the Nextel Cup with three races remaining before the New Hampshire start of the final 10 races to crown the 2007 champion, Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) team do have the luxury of knowing they have breathing room at Bristol, despite the disappointing 27th place finish at Michigan. But the four-time champion doesn't look at it that way because of the extra points paid for every win during the season when the Chase starts.
"The thing is that the track is different," said Gordon. "They've done all new concrete. Nobody really has any laps there. I think it's going to be like going there for the very first time ever. With the new car, I think we learned enough the last time we were there that we should be able to dial the car in but it's just going to be a whole new learning curve on the track this time around.
"We're always trying to win and get bonus points," he continued. "I feel like we've kind of lost an opportunity of getting those bonus points at Watkins Glen and Michigan which was disappointing but that's behind us and we're ready to try to get it done again this weekend. The biggest thing is just trying to make the team and the cars as strong as they can possibly be heading in to the Chase."
Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, scored his only Bristol win in the Fall 2001 race. Stewart heads to Bristol riding on the momentum of three wins in the last five races.
"It's probably one of the most exciting races of the year," said the two-time NNCS champion. "Even though it's going to be a little different, it's still Bristol. You can do whatever you want to the race track but it's still going to be Bristol and it's still going to be plenty exciting for everybody. All you've got to do is look to the right and look in the stands, that's what is exciting about it."
Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Impala SS captured his first Bristol victory in March, the 600th victory for Chevy in NNCS competition. But the 22-year old Las Vegas native is well aware there is a learning curve for everyone with the new surface.
"It's different, completely different now," said Busch. "There's no aspect to that place that's the same. We tested there in a Truck and a Busch car and our Cup test got rained out. It's definitely going to be a different race, that's for sure, and I'm looking forward to it. I don't know what all it's going to entail but we'll have to see how it plays out. I've heard the late model races there have been really, really good. It should be fun."
Bristol has always been an enigma for defending NNCS champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS.
"There's not a lot I look forward to for racing at Bristol," said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. "I love to go watch the races there. I think it's great as a spectator but when you're down there in a car, you know you're escaping disaster multiple times a lap. I guess the only other way you would enjoy it is if you had a huge points lead so the No. 24 will have a good time going there. But for us, it's tough. It's a track when you see it in the rear-view mirror when you drive away you're relieved that you got out of there.
"It's a rush to drive the track, there's no doubt about it. But you have a different mindset if you have something to lose when you go there versus if you're a fan or if you're in a great position in the points. The place can be a lot of fun then."
Martin Truex, Jr., No. 1 Bass Pro Shop/Tracker Boats Impala SS, had a solid second place run at Michigan and remains in the 11th points position. However, there isn't really any wiggle room for Truex and his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. team in the final three races on the schedule before the start of the Chase.
"Obviously, to get in the Chase is a big deal," Truex said. "But we need to go out and perform, we need to run well. So, we won't take any unnecessary risks by any means but we need to go out there and race hard. To get out front and maybe win. Considering how we ran at California earlier in the year that could give us an advantage going back. Bristol's a sort of wild card, anything can happen there. I think we can run well at them all, it's a matter of getting the finishes, getting comfortably into the Chase and we can go racing from there."
-credit: gm racing