Bristol: Tough, unforgiving and tiny track where winning is a challenge
MAR 16, 2014 9:47a ET
So far this season we have had races on a 2.5 mile superspeedway, a 1 mile track and a 1.5 mile track. So that's three different styles of tracks and we've had three different winners in Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. The reality is all three of these drivers have dominated the racing this early in the season.
I don't see any reason to believe we couldn't have a fourth new winner this season happen at Bristol. Joey Logano has been strong this season. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are right there as well. My long shot pick at Bristol would be rookie Kyle Larson. You don't want to down-play what this young man could do on the short tracks. The fourth Hendrick driver, Kasey Kahne, has won at Bristol before too, so keep an eye on him.
My point is when it comes to Bristol, we just can't simply say to expect it to only be Dale Jr., Kevin or Brad in Victory Lane there. Yes those three have been so good these first three races, but we're talking about Bristol and we know everyone's going to be bringing their A-game to that joint.
I fully expect, not only at Bristol, but throughout the season to see a bunch of different winners. I expect to see a bunch of drivers step up and make a statement that "this is my time." Now don't get me wrong, it's not going to be easy. It never is easy to win especially at this level. Then on top of that you throw in the blender we call Bristol Motor Speedway.
I've been very fortunate over my career to visit Victory Lane there a number of times with both Cale Yarborough and naturally the cat that has won 12 times there, Darrell Waltrip. Let's face it, those two were the masters. They simply made it look easy to win at Bristol.
Hands down, Bristol is a very, very difficult place to win at. I've always believed a lot has to do with the driver mentality toward Bristol. Back with Darrell, a lot of drivers back then hated going there. Darrell made it a point to be just the opposite. He always loved going and racing there. 12 wins and a 40,000 seat grandstand named after him proved he really did love racing there.
Bristol is so fast. Bristol is so loud. Bristol is so unforgiving. It's a track that doesn't give you a lot of time to figure out what you need to make your car better. It also doesn't give you a lot of time, since it is only a half-mile track, to overcome any problems or mistakes you might have either on the track or on pit road.
The keys to Bristol, while sounding easy, really aren't. It begins with qualifying and yes this year's new format makes that a completely different effort there. A great qualifying spot leads to a great pit selection. A great pit selection leads to allowing you to stay upfront.
Let me put it another way. If you make a mistake at Bristol during the race, well it is like trying to climb Mount Everest with dental floss. It's almost impossible to overcome any hic-up there. It's a huge, huge challenge. Ironically, like the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega, at Bristol you can get caught up in someone else's mess in a split-second through no fault of your own.
If Bristol isn't the toughest place to win at, then I would say it's at least one of the top three places to win at. One of the things Darrell always talked about and was always so great about at Bristol was anticipation. It's because things happen so fast there you have to be on your toes in anticipating when to make a move for a pass or being able to miss a big pileup.
Hands down, winning at Bristol is a really huge challenge. It's mind-boggling at times for the drivers. It's also very tough for the teams because they normally don't get a lot of time to work on the cars to make them better during a race. So they have to be sure that whatever changes they decide to make are the right ones because if they are wrong, it is just so tough to overcome it and get back to the front.