Mears gets front-row start with Sprint Cup qualifying washed out

Kyle Busch has three races remaining to claim a spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Under normal circumstances, his chances would be good headed into today's race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch, after all, has five Cup victories at Bristol.

But that was before track owner Bruton Smith decided grinding the race track would potentially lure fans back to the track after several years of declining attendance. Asked Friday what he thought of the changes, Busch offered a succinct assessment:

"Terrible," he said.

He was one of the few drivers with a strong opinion after two Friday practice sessions. Qualifying was washed out by rain, and Casey Mears and Brad Keselowski will start on the front row because the field was set by practice times. Keselowski has won the last two Cup races at the track.

Few drivers ventured into the top groove during practice, and insisted it's too early to tell how the race will develop.

Smith is hoping the race proves Bristol is once again one of the most exciting tracks in NASCAR. After yet another ho-hum Bristol race in March, Smith had the top lane ground down in an effort to eliminate the two-wide racing that fans believed ruined the product. Progressive banking was added to the track in 2007, and the bumping and banging that was a Bristol trademark disappeared.

The track had a streak of 55 consecutive sellouts from 1982 until 2010, and Smith believed tightening the track might bring the fans back.

Busch was one of the drivers who didn't bother to run at the top of the track on Friday. Why didn't he check it out?

"I don't have to," he replied, "I watched the Truck race."

Timothy Peters led all 204 laps - and the first 82 were under green - in Wednesday night's truck series race. Drivers kept an eye on that race, and voiced their frustrations with Smith's track on Twitter.

"Just as expected. Killing the top groove doesn't make the bottom groove any better," tweeted Martin Truex Jr.

- Associated Press

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