New Bristol a mystery

Repaved short track 'awesome,' but unknown

? Kurt Busch certainly knows his way around Bristol Motor Speedway, cruising to five victories since 2002.

None of that previous experience is expected to be much of a value on a repaved track that’s a mystery heading into tonight’s race.

“It’s a brand new race track and you can’t take anything for granted,” Busch said Friday. “It’s a first time for everybody. It’s going to be an interesting weekend, to say the least.”

Work began on the .533-mile bullring immediately after the March race here, as track officials smoothed out the surface with new concrete. A variable banking was added, and an additional three feet of track surface was put in the corners. The transition in and out of turns 2 and 4 was also smoothed.

The results were overwhelmingly embraced by the drivers, who typically are slow to adjust to change.

“The track’s awesome,” Tony Stewart said. “I don’t think you could have asked them to do a better job with the race track. To be able to pour concrete and make it as smooth as they did, that’s pretty remarkable.”

Many drivers kept a close eye on Wednesday night’s Truck Series race, the first event here since the repaving. They were surprised to see multiple racing lines, a high groove, and side-by-side passing for the first time in recent memory.

“It looked to me like people are going to be able to hang on on the outside and maybe even make some passes on the outside,” Carl Edwards said. “In the past, if you were running along in line and somebody moved you out of the way or you’d slip up, you would fall back. Now, it looks like there will be truly two or three grooves of racing.”

This event hardly needed any help in producing excitement – the Bristol night race is one of the toughest tickets in NASCAR, and has a stellar reputation for producing thrilling races – and the new surface is expected to enhance it even more.

“I’m telling you, I’m driving around here thinking this is the first time I’ve ever been here,” five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon said. “I didn’t think you could make Bristol any cooler or more fun, but they have. They’ve basically made this track have more room to race on.”

Kasey Kahne, mired in a miserable, winless season, starts from the pole in the Sharpie 500, while fellow Dodge driver Juan Pablo Montoya has the outside spot. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and David Ragan hold down the second row.

Matt Kenseth, the two-time defending race winner, starts 12th and was admittedly “crabby” from the 95-degree heat. As brutal as it was to sit inside a steaming hot race car for two long Friday practice sessions, Kenseth was looking forward to tonight’s race.

“I think in general, everybody is going to see probably a better race,” he said. “There’s a lot more possibilities to run side-by-side. I caught a slower car in traffic and instead of sitting there and being behind him and keep trying to get under him, I just drove outside of him and went around him. We’ve never been able to do that before.”