Leftovers: UARA-Stars at Bristol by Matt Kentfield and Jason Buckley
New Surface Liked by Both Teams and Bristol Officials
New Surface Pleases Bristol Brass

Over the years, the action-packed events at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway have become the hottest ticket in NASCAR.  Fans pack the Coliseum-like grandstands to watch the inevitable bumping, banging and crashing in “Thunder Valley.”

So after the spring NEXTEL Cup race at Bristol, many race fans were wondering why Bristol officials wanted to mess with a good thing by tearing up the concrete and re-surfacing the entire facility. 

Racers, however, would be quick to point out that a lot of the beating, banging and crashing was a direct result of the one-groove track that the old surface had become.  With no outside groove to pass on, nudging cars out of the way became the way to pass at Bristol.

But when the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock cars visited the newly-resurfaced BMS on Saturday, the litmus test of the new surface brought smiles to the faces of not only the drivers, but also the same Bristol officials that were once called crazy for messing with the tough racetrack.

“I think it went very well,” said Kevin Triplett, VP of Public Affairs at Bristol Motor Speedway.  “As far as the racing, there was a lot of two wide.  There was the ability to pass inside and out.  It’s very encouraging.

“I wouldn’t say they were guinea pigs, but I would certainly say that the winner did get $3000, so it wasn’t like they came here and ran around for the fun of it.  But, they were able to help us out.  Hopefully by doing that, young Mr. Yontz one of these days is going to be able to show a lot of people pictures that he won at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Hopefully it served both purposes.”

Weather And Rules Send Fastest Driver Brandon Dean Home Before The Green

When the weather decides it isn’t going to cooperate, it creates headaches for the series, drivers and teams.  It can change the daily schedule, sending everyone scrambling on what to do.  In some cases, weather forces a series to make a decision that helps some and hurts others.

Brandon Dean was fast from the second he unloaded his car Friday.  He was near the top of the speed charts throughout all the practice sessions and was the fastest driver in Saturday’s final practice heading into qualifying.  A consistent drizzle kept the engines quiet during the mid part of the day, forcing officials to cancel qualifying.

Even though there was little publicity for the race, there was a turnout of loyal Late Model fans that turned out at Bristol.
The series set the 32-car field based on a few factors.  First, the top-20 drivers were set by owner’s points to date.  The remainder was set due to entry blank postmarks.  For Dean, he was just outside the top-20 and didn’t get his entry in before others, putting the fastest driver on the sidelines for the race.

“It is unfortunate,” said Dean.  “But I guess that is how it goes.  They make the rules and we just abide by them.”

There was talk during the driver’s meeting by some that questioned why they only guaranteed the top-20 in the race.  Officials stated that all the cars within the top-20 in owner’s points had made every race, but some drivers suggested they would have expanded the number of guaranteed drivers to include others that have supported the series this season.

“We would have definitely been in (if they would have put all drivers in the points in the race first),” said Dean.  “I think that is what they need to do.  We are the ones supporting the series and now you have people that have never run a race in the show.  It is a little messed up.

“It is frustrating.  I would have rather had a slow car and gone home.  Having the fastest car it makes it harder on me.  I don’t know.  They make it up so you just go by what they do.”

Dean said he would return to Bristol for the next UARA race in a few weeks, but he will make some preparations before going to insure he will race.

“I think we will check the weather out before we come but yes, we will be there.  It is a race to get the entry form in to.”

Clint Mills Also Affected By Weather; Frustrated At Series

Brandon Dean might have been disappointed he didn’t make the race after being the fastest car in practice, but Clint Mills was frustrated at the series and the rules.  Mills was the third-fastest driver in the final practice, but also was bit by the weather cancellation of qualifying.  He wasn’t in the top-20 in owner’s points and didn’t have his entry blank in before others, sending him home for the day.

Mills was not only frustrated with the rules, but with the decision by the officials and the track to cancel qualifying since the track has lights and they could run qualifying and the race later into the evening if needed.

Brandon Dean was quick in practice, but rain had a different plan for him come race time.
There were multiple grooves on the new surface at Bristol Motor Speedway.  (51 Photos)
“The comments we even got in the Truck and the Busch Series test session earlier in the week was when this track gets rubber on it, when it gets some time on it and it gets some age, it’s going to be really interesting what you see around this place.  I haven’t talked to any of our guys (after the UARA race) who weren’t pleased.  It’s a different tire than the NASCAR guys use, but it was very encouraging.”

In Saturday’s UARA race, Jake Crum and eventual winner Alex Yontz battled side-by-side for several laps.  Crum hung in strong on the outside groove that, in BMS’s old configuration, wouldn’t be as possible.  All throughout the field, cars were able to run side-by-side Saturday night.  Is it safe to say that there’s officially an outside groove at Bristol?

“Maybe, but I’m not going to,” added Triplett.  “You just want to get some more time on it.  This was the first race.  Last Monday was the first time we even had racecars on it, and it was the Craftsman Truck Series and Tuesday we had the Busch Cars.  Before that, we had Rusty (Wallace) taking a few laps in the pace car.  This is still extremely fresh and green, so it was encouraging.  I think you’ll see even better next week (this Saturday’s ASA Late Model event) and when these guys come back in two weeks it will be even better and it will work in.”

While BMS Officials and some drivers were pleased with the track, the UARA, NASCAR Busch and Truck Series drivers that had truly figured out the old configuration, found themselves having to re-learn Bristol.

“A couple of guys who have run really well here in the past have said they didn’t like it.  But the old surface was 15 years old.  I don’t know what a racetrack surface is in dog years, but a 15-year-old surface is more like 150 years old.  You’re not exactly in your peak form at 15-year-old.  There were a couple of drivers who had figured it out.  They knew where the bumps were.  To use a golf term, they knew where the undulations were and that was good for them.  They found some success with that.  We’ve taken most of that out and they weren’t thrilled about that.  It’s not that they didn’t like the surface, they just didn’t have a problem with what we had before.”

But, some drivers brought up the fact throughout the race weekend that they felt as if they were mere guinea pigs at Bristol; they were only there to get rubber down on the track for when the NASCAR show comes to town in late August.  Triplett, however, said having short track series like UARA at Bristol is mutually beneficial.

“I think they were able to provide something we needed and hopefully we provided them something, which is one of the greatest short tracks in the world – not just the country, the world.  I think we were able to give them something they enjoy doing, which is running at a place like this – and they helped us out.  They helped us out by putting some rubber on the track. 

“It is unreal,” said Mills.   “We come up here and are fast off the truck.  Me and Brandon Dean park beside each other and have been buddies all our lives.  We were helping each other out.  We told each other on the way here if one was fast we would combine notes.  We were probably two tenths quicker than the whole field Friday.  We came out here today and busted off some good laps.  But we can’t get a break. 

“We are going home without racing.  It is unreal and horrible.  I am disgusted that it is not raining and it is only 4:45 PM and we could be qualifying right now.  Bristol Motor Speedway has a lot of lights here and if they wanted to see some racing they would turn them on tonight.”

Mills other issue had to do with the understanding of the points.  While there are driver’s points, there are also owner’s points, which are what the series uses to determine rain-out starting lineups.

Clint Mills's #77
“I am 21st in the driver standings, but for some reason we do not have owner points,” explained Mills.  “They told us we didn’t buy an owner’s license at the beginning of the year.  I didn’t know that.  As you see it bit us in the butt today. 

“It just frustrates me that I am going to sit here and watch these Late Models go around this track when we were faster than them.  If you look at the top-10 in practice times, half of them aren’t racing.  That is disgusting.”

Former Champion Heads Home

Matt McCall was fifth fastest in the final practice Saturday before the drizzle shut down qualifying.  McCall was another driver not in the top-20 in owner’s points and didn’t have his entry blank in before others, but being a past champion he thought he might be in the show anyway.  Unfortunately for McCall, UARA-Stars do not provide a provisional for a past champion, which also sent him packing.

“I guess they do not have a past champion’s provisional,” said McCall.  “We sort of knew coming in if it rained it might have hurt us but we sort of relied on being a past champion.  But what do you do?  You come back the next race and I think it makes you want it more.”

When the series announced qualifying was to be cancelled in the driver’s meeting, McCall was one of the first drivers that got up and walked out before the meeting concluded.  It might have appeared he was upset with the officials, but that wasn’t the case.

“What was the point (in staying for the rest of the meeting)?  I am not racing.  I was going back to my trailer to load it up.

“We will be back in two weeks.”

DiBenedetto Ok After Hard Wreck In First Bristol Race

Drivers across the country dream of racing at the famous Bristol Motor Speedway.  For sixteen-year old Matt DiBenedetto, making laps around the half-mile high-banked track was special.  Unfortunately for the young driver, a wreck in front of him and no communication cost him a shot at a good finish.

"Guido" DiBenedetto
“We were pretty good, just a little loose,” said DiBenedetto.  “We probably had about a second-place car.  There was a wreck in front of me and nobody told me where to go.  I couldn’t see anything except a car in front of me.  Not one person on the crew or the spotter told me where to go.  I was stuck where I was.  I got on the brakes and my rear brakes locked up and I spun out.  I couldn’t control it.

“I don’t know.  We have been on a bad-luck streak here lately.  Money is a little tight, and I don’t know if we will make the next race.  We will see.”

Although his debut at Bristol wasn’t quite what he had in mind, DiBenedetto enjoyed the time he did get on the track.

“It is a good track with two grooves and it is real fast.  We are moving so fast down the straightaway you don’t have time to slow down for a wreck.  But it is a real good track.  Hopefully we get to come back for the next one.”

Bristol's "Badass" for Gottsacker

Johnny Gottsacker was one of many drivers making their debut at Bristol Motor Speedway, but early on Saturday it might appear he wouldn’t be too thrilled with the facility as bad luck struck him in the final practice session.

“The O ring on the remote oil filter was messed up, so we were spitting oil everywhere,” said Gottsacker.  “We only got one lap on our qualifying run and it didn’t run that great.  Before then the clutch plates melted together, so we didn’t get to practice much today.”

With help from Chase Pistone and the JCR3 crew, Gottsacker kept his head on straight throughout the race and stayed out of trouble with a good car to finish within the top-10.

“We missed a bunch of wrecks and rode around to a 10th-place finish,” said Gottsacker.  “We had a car that was better than 10th place, but I couldn’t pass very well.  I have to thank Chase Pistone and JCR3 racing.  They came down here and helped us.  We needed some help this weekend.  It would have been me and Chase only working on the car and that would have been hard to do.”

Gottsacker was satisfied with his run and thoroughly enjoyed his first racing experience at Bristol.

“It feels great.  If there is somewhere I would like to have a good run at it is here.  There is nothing else like this track anywhere.  Anderson, Indiana is a quarter-mile version of this but I think that is 25 degrees of banking.  This is 36 degrees.  That is a lot. 

“This track is badass.  It is the most badass track there is.”

Kevin Leicht receives work on pit road from his crew.
Brothers Relieved After Wreck About Wipes Out Both Family Cars

Matt and Kevin Leicht are not only brothers, but teammates on the track.  From the local Late Model races at Hickory Motor Speedway and other race tracks across the South the past few years, they have been working and racing together as they both move up the ranks in racing.

Saturday night both drivers started the race with high hopes of solid finishes, but an early wreck with one brother came close to taking both out of the race.

“At the beginning of the race Roger Lee (Roger Lee Newton) got into Ross Furr and got him a little bent out of shape,” said Kevin Leicht.  “They check up so fast here.  I checked up a little too much and lost it.  I tried to keep it from hitting the inside wall
and overcorrected and it went up in the middle of the race track.  I was looking my brother dead in the eyes, so that was kind of scary.  I was really thinking we were going to have to fix two race cars next week.  Luckily it all worked out and he dodged me there.  We just got lucky on that.”

Matt Leicht saw the same thing and also was worried about heading home with two trashed cars that they had to explain to their father.  Fortunately, they both missed each other and continued to race on.

“He (his brother Kevin) spun out right in front of me,” said Matt Leicht.  “I looked him right in the eyes.  It wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world.  The closing rate here is so fast.  If anything happens in front of you it is on you before you snap your fingers.

“I wasn’t even thinking it (the wreck) was going to hurt.  I was thinking ‘whoa, here goes two race cars right here. Dad isn’t going to like this’.  That is what I was thinking.”

Mackey Extends Points Lead With Solid Third-Place Finish

B.J. Mackey has been doing what he needs to this season in the UARA-Stars races.  With a few wins and consistent top-five finishes, Mackey has been a top the points for some time now.  Although he wasn’t a major factor at Bristol, a third-place finish while others in the points had trouble was exactly what he needed.

“We had a good car there at first,” said Mackey.  “We jumped out front there for a little bit.  I think we led about 30 laps.  We didn’t have a real good car but we could run in the top-five.  We got a third-place finish and that isn’t bad.  We are leading the points, and it could have been worse.”

Lee Tissot was second in points to Mackey but finished a disappointing 25th after a few incidents on the track.  This helped Mackey at the end of the day with the points but did nothing to help his own handling issues.

“It has been up and down since we got here,” explained Mackey.  “We have been fighting the car and haven’t got it driving like we want it.  It is frustrating because we are trying our hardest but it just isn’t happening.  Then the rain came and put the good cars out of the field, which played in our favor.  We will take third and go on with it.”

B.J. Mackey (#12) leads the field at Bristol.
Clay Greenfield Quietly Takes Fifth

Bristol Motor Speedway is a track that puts everyone on alert, and it is hard to run in the top-five without making some noise.  However that is exactly what Clay Greenfield did, bringing home a fifth-place finish without really being noticed throughout the race.

“It was a pretty quiet race,” said Greenfield.  “Last time we were here we ran from 23rd to third and blew out a tire on the last lap.  So it was kind of boring compared to the last time I was here.”

Greenfield struggled with his car throughout the day with a handling issue.  If he would have had that right, he said he would have been up towards the front of the pack.

“My car was really, really tight,” said Greenfield.  “We were really good in practice but our stagger didn’t come up right and I was way too tight.  I couldn’t drive the race track like I needed to.  I just had to crutch my car how I needed to get it around the race track.  It really killed us.  I think we would have had a good car if we had our stagger right.  We will be good when we come back in two weeks.”

The resurfacing project at Bristol appeared to be a success with most drivers, but Greenfield was one of the drivers that didn’t have a problem with the way it was before.

“I don’t like the surface as much as the old race track,” explained Greenfield.  “I thought it was the perfect race track before.  It really wasn’t in bad shape from what I was concerned.  It had enough bumps to give it character and make the driver get up on the wheel to drive it.  But they did a real good job with the new surface.”