Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BACK IN THE BULLRING; New SAFER Walls Make an Already Tight Turn a Little Bit Tighter

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BACK IN THE BULLRING; New SAFER Walls Make an Already Tight Turn a Little Bit Tighter

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

Races at Bristol Motor Speedway are known for being tough on a driver's patience and even tougher on race cars. Now the track itself is getting into the action.

New SAFER barriers at the exits of Turns 2 and 4 removed nearly three feet of the racetrack, and that puts the track squarely in the racing groove for Sunday's Food City 500.

"We use every inch of that racetrack," Jeff Gordon said. "It is definitely going to be unique. I am anxious to get there and see how many right sides we take off the first hour of practice. It is like anything else. Eventually, you get used to it.

"Then it's going to come down to the side-by-side racing. I think the most important thing is that you are really going to have to get your car working well. It might be a little harder to pass."

For years, Bristol was the most difficult place to make a pass. Drivers used their front bumpers like a pry bar to move cars out of the way, and that usually led to even more sparks on pit road after the race.

The half-mile racetrack was repaved a year ago, providing enough traction to run side-by-side. That took some of the full-contact nature out of the race, but the new "soft walls" should end that.

Now there might not be enough room to run side-by-side, so everyone expects a lot of pushing and shoving to be the first in line. And that should trigger some new rivalries.

The late Dale Earnhardt crashed Terry Labonte on the final lap in 1995 and again in 1999. Labonte crossed the line with a win the first time with a destroyed car. In 1999, he never made it to the finish line.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch have tangled at Bristol. So have Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt, Wallace and Gordon, Gordon and Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick, Harvick and Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer.

That aggression could return this Sunday - all in the name of safety.

"If you want to see sparks fly, this might be the thing that does that," Gordon said. …

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