BRISTOL, Tenn. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants rain to miss Bristol Motor Speedway. So does Kyle Larson but for a different reason.
A forecast that calls for rain all day Saturday has both drivers concerned.
Larson wants more track time so cars can run the top groove and rubber it in to make it faster. He wants to run there instead of on the lower groove that has had VHT added for more grip.
Earnhardt, who starts 22nd, wants more track time to get used to the VHT on the lower groove since he didn’t compete in last August’s race, the first where the substance was used.
“I feel like I’m behind a little bit compared to everyone else out there who has been running on it and knows what to expect,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports after he was 24th in Friday’s lone practice session.
“I had no idea what to expect when I first went out there. I hope we get a little more practice (Saturday). I was happy how we ended. I thought the car drove OK, but I’d like a little more practice just to tune on my car, make a couple of more changes.’’
Earnhardt said he could feel the additional grip the VHT-treated portion of the lower groove provided.
“It’s looks like they are learning how to make that stuff where it’s a little more active and a little more long-term,’’ Earnhardt said of the 7-foot wide section in the corners. “I think it wore out a little the last time they used it. I think it will be tough to have it as durable as they want. It adds an alternative and gives a guy the option to run down there if he wants and that’s good. It’s certainly going to make an interesting race if we’re all down there like we used to be.’’
That’s the purpose of the VHT — to make the lower groove the preferred line and force drivers to run there and have to bump others out of the way to pass. Just as it was done years ago.
That’s not what Larson wants, though. He wants to run the top groove. So far it’s too slick. It needs to have more cars run up there. If it rains, that’s less track time and less opportunity for drivers to do so.
That could mean fans could see old Bristol in the Cup race.
That’s something Larson, who will start on the pole, does not know since he never raced in those conditions.
“I will probably have to go back and watch like 1980 Bristol or something like that,’’ he joked about preparing for such a race.
“I think you look at myself and Chase (Elliott), who I feel like have been the fastest all year long, who are young and haven’t gotten to race around Bristol when it’s been on the bottom, we were both a little bit off in practice, so it will be interesting. I think you will see some of the veterans, the older guys who did get to run on the old Bristol excel if it does end up being around the bottom. But, Bristol is Bristol and it’s an aggressive track, and I still feel like I should be okay once we get to racing.”
Then again, Larson’s silver lining could be a lot of rain.
“If it rains a lot, it might wash some of the VHT off,’’ Larson said before conceding that “I think with all the rain, it’s going to make it hard for us to go up there and widen the track out.’’