Drive For Diabetes 300 Previewby Kyle Pokrefky March 13, 2014 0 comments
Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR
BRISTOL, Tenn. — The NASCAR Nationwide Series continues to roll right along as 41 teams will flock to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the Drive For Diabetes 300.
This weekend’s field is chock full of drivers who have turned in excellent runnings at Bristol. Who are looking to be the favorites heading into Saturday’s event? The strongest contenders appear to be a Sprint Cup champion, some Nationwide Series veterans, and even some rookies for this weekend.
Come this Saturday, we might be watching another episode of the Kyle and Kyle show. Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson both proved to be the dominant drivers throughout both Bristol races last year with last year’s Spring event ending in an exciting finish where Busch nipped Larson to the line by 23 hundredths of a second. Busch is looking for his third consecutive and seventh career Bristol Nationwide Series victory, Larson is looking for his first ever win in the series.
With Busch winning the last five of seven events in Thunder Valley, he appears to be the clear favorite to get to victory lane. It’d be foolish to count Larson out though, he has scored two top-fives with three top-10s to kick off this season and his results have been improving since the drop of the green flag at Daytona.
Busch’s Sprint Cup teammate, Matt Kenseth, will make another start in the No. 20 Camry this week as he returns to a track he has found success at in the past. Kenseth is a three-time winner at Bristol in the Nationwide Series and a three-time winner here in the Sprint Cup Series. While Kenseth hasn’t won here in a Nationwide car since 2006 in a Jack Roush-owned Ford, his first start in a Joe Gibbs-owned Camry could help him earn his fourth series win at Bristol.
Another Sprint Cup driver, Kevin Harvick, will make his second start of the year for JR Motorsports at a track he has won at five times in this series. In 24 starts in the Nationwide Series at Bristol, Harvick has finished in the top-10 in 19 of those starts and his past three victories at the track have come in the Spring, his last coming in 2009.
Harvick’s JR Motorsports teammates, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott, will head into Bristol with a championship on their mind. Smith is the current points leader while Elliott is currently in fifth position, 14 points behind his teammate.
Smith hasn’t had the best of results at the track in the past, in eight career starts here he has only one top-10 finish to his name, a sixth place result in this race last year. While the record may not show strong numbers for our points leader, the same was said prior to last week’s race at Las Vegas where Smith brought his car home in 10th place.
Elliott has one career start in the Camping World Truck Series at Bristol where he led 63 laps from the pole on his way to a fifth place finish; a tremendous result for the 18-year-old.
Elliott’s fellow contender for the championship and Rookie of the Year honors, Ty Dillon, brings his No. 3 Camaro to Bristol with a history of some good results. Dillon has raced here in the Nationwide Series once, driving his way to a seventh-place finish during last Summer’s night race. Dillon also has two starts in the Camping World Truck Series here, his best result being a sixth-place result in the same race weekend as his Bristol Nationwide Series debut.
The driver of the No. 3 has momentum on his side at Bristol and has proven to be a consistent driver in the Nationwide Series thus far this season, it would not be too surprising to see him possibly contend for a victory.
Another rookie who has performed well here in his sole career Bristol race is 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski. Kwasniewski’s lone Bristol start came in last year’s K&N Pro Series East 125-lap event, a race where he drove to victory. While there is a world of difference between the K&N Series and Nationwide Series cars, the driver of the No. 31 Camaro can still use the knowledge he obtained from his victory last year and apply it to his new ride.
Bristol’s racing has evolved over the past several years; with the introduction of progressive banking several years back, the preferred line has shifted from the bottom to the top lane of the race track. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain two-wide racing through the corners, not particularly due to the lack of space, but due to the strong runs a driver can get off the corner on the top-side.
While Bristol has never been an easy race track to pass on (without the assistance of using the front bumper), the average number of lead changes has decreased significantly as of late. The past three Spring races at Bristol have had an average of 4.67 lead changes across 300 laps; the seven Spring races prior to that had an average of 9.14 successful passes for the lead during the race.
Given the inability to pass, one’s qualifying position is crucial to increasing the chances for victory in this event. Going back to the Summer of 2010, the past six of seven Bristol winners have come from a top-five starting position. The five drivers entered for Saturday’s race with the lowest average start for this race are, in order, Dillon, Larson, Busch, Harvick, and Trevor Bayne.
What’s to expect for this Saturday’s Drive For Diabetes 300? A bit of the Bristol usual: close racing, on-track (and sometimes off-track) contact, and flared tempers. With not a lot of racing room at the half-mile concrete oval that is proud to call itself The Last Great Colosseum, drivers will have to fight like gladiators in order to get the win – and fight like gladiators they shall.
The Drive For Diabetes 300 airs this Saturday with coverage beginning at 1:30p.m EST on ESPN2.