NASCAR visits Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for its first race at the half-mile track since 600 feet of additional SAFER barrier (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) was installed.
The SAFER barrier was added on the outside walls of the frontstretch and backstretch. The addition comes after Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot when he hit an unprotected wall in February during the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Drivers have called for additional SAFER barriers to be installed at all NASCAR tracks. But how do they think the racing will be changed at the short track?
Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne first addressed the topic during a tire test at Richmond International Raceway last week.
“It still hurts when you hit those things, but not as bad,” Bayne said. “That’s going to change the racing line a little bit. There’s going to be things we’re going to have to do different as drivers, but obviously safety is their priority and we appreciate that as drivers.”
One of the biggest voices in the demand for more SAFER barrier has been Jeff Gordon, who met with NASCAR officials after hitting an unprotected inside wall on Atlanta’s backstretch.
“It is going to change the groove slightly,” said Gordon, who has five wins in 44 career starts at Bristol. “Before you had a little bit of room, I don’t know, a foot, so that is definitely going to change how we race there. I hope it makes it more exciting, more action is what I’m hoping.”
Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick agreed there would be less room for the 43-car field to maneuver when exiting Bristol’s corners that are banked 24 to 28 degrees.
“The straightaway is going to be narrower,” said Harvick, whose only Sprint Cup win at Bristol came in 2005. “It’s just going to be tighter. You already have to come back off the corners where you’re running the top. If you’re running the bottom, it’s just going to give you less space to let the car have its head up off the corner. So it’s probably going to make the bottom worse than it was.”
Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, winner of the 2013 spring Bristol race, said the bottom lane will become less desirable.
“It’ll hurt the bottom more as you try to use the race track to get off the corner and be wide open,” Kahne said. “You’re already at a deficit down there, it’s probably going to hurt you a little bit more. (The top is) the spot already, now you’re going to have to be there.”