TONY RAINES Car of Tomorrow at Bristol -- Round 2 -- And It's At Night CORNELIUS, N.C., (Aug. 22, 2007) -- For the first time, NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (COT) will race at a track for the second time. Saturday night's Sharpie 500 NASCAR Nextel...
Car of Tomorrow at Bristol -- Round 2 -- And It's At Night
CORNELIUS, N.C., (Aug. 22, 2007) -- For the first time, NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (COT) will race at a track for the second time.
Saturday night's Sharpie 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race will mark the first return trip for the COT to a track that it has previously raced on.
But Tony Raines, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet, as well as the 42 other Nextel Cup Series starters come race night, will see a totally different Bristol than the one they saw in April.
Since the Food City 500 last March, when Raines started 17th and finished 24th, the concrete surface at Bristol has been torn up and redone.
Raines and crew chief Brandon Thomas, who hails from nearby Johnson City, Tenn., will have COT information from the first Bristol race, but the new surface may make it useless. Plus, this weekend's 500-lap event will run at night, which always makes for an interesting turn of events to make for what is generally considered one of the most exciting races of the season.
Local flavor: Brandon Thomas, crew chief on the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet hails from Johnson City, Tenn. He graduated from Sullivan Central High School.
TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
Overall thoughts heading into Bristol:
"It's a really exciting event. I just hope I miss all the flying debris from all these guys being mad at each other. I've never left Bristol and not seen anybody, myself included, not mad at something. Everybody kind of goes into Bristol knowing that things can get hairy at some point during the night. I'm going to go there and try to keep my nose clean and get a solid finish. That sounds like the right thing to do."
What are your thoughts on the new surface at Bristol?
"Obviously, we haven't run on it, yet. I've heard from the guys who tested on it that it's a little different, so it will be interesting to get out there and see for myself."
What is the key to running well at Bristol? Is it handling, power or luck?
"You need to handle well, but you need luck -- lots of luck. The fastest car doesn't always win there. You're racing 500 laps in tight quarters with a ton of traffic. I think I'd give up 25 horsepower just to have a bucket of luck there."
What does 500 laps at Bristol do to you physically?
"It is a demanding track, physically, because of the banking. It kind of slams you down in the car and slams you into the right side of the seat. It seems like it's never going to end. Then, at about lap 300, you get your second wind and it starts to ease its way out. You just get into a really good rhythm. The race pace is considerably slower than what you run in practice on Friday. The track will build up a lot of rubber. To me, as the race goes on, the track gets wider and bigger -- like it's got more room. It gets to be fun to drive, especially if your car is still in one piece. Bristol's always a lot of fun. It's fun for some people. You're not always on that fun list. When the night is over, there will be a handful of people who had fun and one lucky guy will be the winner."
What is the atmosphere of the night race at Bristol?
"Night races are the best way to enjoy a race from a fan's standpoint. Racing at night from a driver's standpoint is usually more enjoyable, also. The temperature is better and it's more exciting. It's the way most of us grew up racing -- Saturday-night short-track racing. We're well used to it. This is the most exciting race track on the circuit. What's it got, 160,000 seats? That's crazy, especially at the smallest track we go to. We need more Bristols and Richmonds."
How hard was the two-day rain delay up at Michigan?
"It's tough, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's tough on everybody as far as getting to Bristol from there and all the logistics. It makes for a short week, but it could be worse.
BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
Bristol is the first track that will host the COT for the second time. Is there any significance to that?
"No. The biggest thing is they've changed Bristol with the resurfacing of the place. Really, in essence, we're not going back. It's a whole new Bristol."
What do you expect out of the new surface?
"I don't know, yet. A lot of people I've talked to, Busch and Truck guys, said it's still Bristol. But the transitions into and out of the corners are different. So a lot of the set-ups and things you worried about before, with wheel spin and car travel, some of that's going to go away and change your set-up a little bit."
Can you talk about how the night race is different than the day race at Bristol?
"I don't really consider the night race to be that different. From a vehicle standpoint, it's not. It's typically a lot warmer, so that changes your set-up a little bit, looking for grip. The fans are probably more excited for the night race. It's just more of an exciting event. From a car and race standpoint, it's not that different."
You grew up in Johnson City, Tenn. Is this a home race for you?
"Yes. You don't really have any time to do anything. You can't go in early, especially now with the rain at Michigan and all of that. It makes for a really tight week. You have less time to turn everything around. It's fun to go back, though. I won my first-ever stock car race there in 1999 as an engineer for Rusty Wallace. It's fun, but you don't have time to do too much."
Do you still have family and friends there?
"My dad lives there and my sister lives there. My sister is a teacher in the Sullivan County Education System, so I'm going to go read a book to her first grade class at Blountville Elementary. I went to Sullivan Central High School, so I still have friends who live up there."
You graduated from Virginia Tech in 1997. Students at Virginia Tech went back to school this week. What are your thoughts on that?
"I know they've had a lot of talk about the football team and you've seen a ton of coverage on ESPN about the students returning. I've spoken with a couple of faculty members over the summer. The big thing is they need to put it behind them. You can't let that put a cloud over the rest of the experience there. That said, you never want to forget what happened and who it affected. It takes a lot of time to move on and heal and the students going back is another step in that healing process."