Bristol Motor Speedway to host college football game in 2016 (VIDEO)

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On Sept. 10, 2016, the most infamous half-mile in NASCAR will play host to big-time college football.

Today, Bristol Motor Speedway officially announced that it will be the site of the “Battle of Bristol” game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies.

According to the track, seating will be available for approximately 150,000 spectators – accounting for almost all of the track’s 160,000-seat capacity – and tickets will start at $40 apiece.

For the record, the current official attendance record for a college football game stands at 115,109, a mark set during last month’s Notre Dame-Michigan tilt at Michigan Stadium.

“There has always been a desire by fans to see a football game at our historic Speedway,” Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to turn this long-time rumor into a reality and to provide sports fans with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the biggest college football game ever.”

Bristol’s transformation from short track to football field will begin after its August 2016 NASCAR weekend. After cleaning, detailing and pressure-washing around the speedway, the turf and field build will then take place over a span of eight days, with 8,500 tons of rock (that’s approximately 400 truckloads’ worth) to serve as the base of the field.

In order to create proper sloping for drainage, the base rock will taper from three to six feet deep in the middle of the infield to about one to one-and-a-half feet deep on the sidelines.

The “Battle of Bristol” marks the culmination of what has been a longtime dream of Smith’s. Back in 2005, Smith said he had offered $20 million to both schools in order to get their football teams to play at his racing coliseum in the mountains of East Tennessee.

Additionally, another SMI facility, Texas Motor Speedway, has also made an attempt in the past to attract a major college football game – in their case, it was the Red River Rivalry contest between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners, normally played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

But, now, finally, Smith has his game – and the Vols and Hokies are looking forward to it.

“We are looking forward to this opportunity to be a part of college football history,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said. “The chance to play in a great venue as Bristol Motor Speedway against a program the caliber of Virginia Tech is another illustration of how we are continuing to build upon our great and unique tradition here at Tennessee. Our players and everyone associated with our football program will have wonderful memories of being a part of such a historical event.”

“To be able to play in front of a crowd that is the largest to ever see a college football game is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “With the great fan support that Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee have, it should be a great atmosphere.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds