ATLANTA (Aug. 22, 2001) - Racing under the lights at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway remains one of the most exciting events on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. The August night race at the .533-mile bullring is a constant sell-out thanks...
ATLANTA (Aug. 22, 2001) - Racing under the lights at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway remains one of the most exciting events on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. The August night race at the .533-mile bullring is a constant sell-out thanks to constant action.
Perhaps Saturday night's Sharpie 500 is an even more anticipated event this year, as it comes just days after NASCAR announced its findings from their six-month investigation of Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash at the season-opening Daytona 500.
As we continue to digest the information presented on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, the night race at Bristol allows drivers, teams and fans the opportunity to get back to good, old-fashioned short track racing - the type of racing NASCAR was built upon.
After all the scrutiny following the Earnhardt investigation report, how much of a welcome sight will Bristol be for you?
"Bristol is always a welcome sight. I think it will be good for all of us to get back to racing. That's what we do."
The schedule at Bristol has been altered a bit. Gone are the two practice sessions during the day, and now all you have to do on Saturday is race. How helpful is that?
"It's great. Now you can sleep in and be ready for 500 laps at Bristol. Before this year's schedule, the night race kind of took a toll on you. You'd have to get up early, practice the car, run to the driver's meeting, get about two hours to yourself and then go race. Before the race even started you felt kind of run down. Now all we have to do is go to the driver's meeting and go race. Since I'm basically nocturnal, I love the night races. But the way NASCAR has structured the schedule at the night races this year has made them even better. I think we're all a little more fresh when the green flag drops now."
Do you go into Bristol knowing that a little more give-and-take will be needed to ensure a strong finish?
"You've got to make sure that you keep the fenders on your car all night and that you're not beating up your race car. If that means a guy gets underneath you and you've got to let him go, then that's what you do. But at the same time, you still have to race hard and not give up track position and lap times because it doesn't take long before you're in lapped traffic. It's a track where you need to be really aggressive, but at the same time, taking care of your equipment all day is key."
How do you deal with lapped traffic at Bristol?
"You just have to be real patient. Most of the time they're pretty good about letting you go. It's hard. The track's crowded. But I felt that in traffic was where The Home Depot team excelled at times last year. We seemed to get through traffic at the right times and we were able to pull away afterward. I actually look forward to lapped traffic because I'm able to use it to my advantage."
Even though Bristol is one of the more challenging race tracks on the Winston Cup circuit, you excelled there right from the start. Why?
"Probably because Bristol is similar to Winchester (Ind.) and Salem (Ind.), places where I always ran well in the open-wheel cars. It's just a half-mile track and I like tracks that size - especially with the banking Bristol has. I seem to be better on the high-banked tracks anyway."
How important is it to qualify up front at Bristol?
"It's real important. Track position is a big deal at Bristol because it's so hard to pass. It sure makes your night a lot easier if you can qualify up front and stay there during the race."
Because Bristol is so fast and so small and things happen so quickly, are your senses heightened more so than they are at a track like Michigan, where you raced last week?
"You just don't have time to relax. Everything happens so fast. At the end of the night when the race is done and your adrenaline wears off, you're worn out. But when you're in the car the adrenaline's pumping, you don't get in that smooth, calm rhythm that you do at a place like Michigan or California where you've got big, sweeping corners and long straightaways. There's no time to relax. You don't get that luxury at Bristol. It's standard short track racing."
Does driver fatigue play a bigger role at Bristol than at other tracks?
"There are some other places where it's big, but you hear a lot of drivers talk about how physical Bristol is. If your car's not right it can make for a really long race. If your car's right it's not a big factor. But if it's off, it can be a problem."
Was there something, perhaps unknowingly, that better prepared you for the short tracks once you arrived at places like Bristol, Martinsville (Va.) and Richmond (Va.)?
"Probably just the fact that my background was in sprint cars, where throttle control was everything. It's more critical than it is in a Cup car. Having to go through those experiences where you're on the gas hard, using that throttle to really get around the race track, were invaluable. It showed up at Bristol, where you use your right foot a lot."