Food City 500 Preview

Food City 500 Preview

by March 14, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Round four of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series brings us short-track action as the big names of NASCAR head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500.

Bristol is renowned for its close-quarters racing, or as some would view it, combat. After all, this concrete half-mile oval didn’t earn the nickname The Last Great Colosseum for nothing. Unlike tracks like Daytona or Auto Club Speedway where a car’s aerodynamics are a critical component of putting together a winning run, here at Bristol you can put some dents in the car or knock a fender in and still have an equal chance of taking the win. Given that, the classic NASCAR mantra of ‘rubbing’s racing’ will be seen in full effect on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to the track he once dubbed “the Rose Bowl on steroids” looking for his fourth straight top-two finish and second victory of the season. Out of all active drivers, Earnhardt possesses the second lowest average finish at Bristol with a figure of 11.5. The driver of the No. 88 car also has experience getting to victory lane here as he is the winner of Bristol’s 2004 night race. With the No. 88 team currently firing on all eight cylinders early this season, it would not be surprising to see Earnhardt’s top-two streak continue this week.

The only driver with a lower average finish than Earnhardt at Bristol is the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, Kyle Busch. Busch is a five-time Bristol winner who has finished in the top-10 in two-thirds of his career races at the half-mile concrete oval. In each of his five victories, Busch started from starting positions outside of the top-10; excluding Busch, the last driver to win from a grid position outside of the top-10 was Kevin Harvick in this race nine years ago. For Busch, whether he starts within the top-ten or outside of it, he will be a threat to win on Sunday.

Brad Keselowski, last week’s Las Vegas winner, is a two-time Bristol winner himself. Keselowski comes into Bristol with a record this season that rivals Earnhardt’s as both drivers are the only two competitors this year who have scored a top-five finish in each of the season’s three races. The No. 2 team also has momentum at Bristol itself; Keselowski and his crew are currently on a run of two straight top-three finishes in this race. A troubling trend that might be raising red flags for Keselowski’s chances to win though is the absence of a Ford in Bristol’s victory lane as of late. The last time a Ford won at Bristol was in 2008’s night race, the last time a Ford won the day race was in 2004. With momentum on his side, Keselowski just might have what it takes to bring Ford back to victory lane at Bristol this weekend.

Another driver with momentum on their side is Earnhardt’s teammate, five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon. Gordon is off to his best start to a season since 2007 with this year marking the third ever time in his career that he has opened the season with three straight top-ten finishes. Though the four-time Sprint Cup champion has not won at Bristol since the 2002 night race, his ability to run well on different kinds of race tracks this year along with the hunger to win his fifth championship could lead to Gordon’s 89th career Sprint Cup victory.

Dominance at Bristol seems to run in the Busch family, as Kurt Busch is a five-time winner at the track just as is his younger brother Kyle. While Kurt has not won at Bristol since 2006, with the help of a new team in Stewart-Haas Racing he may be able to find his way back to Bristol’s victory lane. The driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet is currently on an 81-race winless streak and is hungry to prove that he can still win at NASCAR’s top level. What better place to start a hot streak than at a track that Kurt flat-out dominated at in the early 2000’s?

The alterations that Speedway Motorsports, Inc. have made to Bristol’s racing surface have changed the racing here significantly over the past half-decade. The changes to the track seem to have hampered the ability to pass for the lead here in the Nationwide Series. The Sprint Cup Series on the other hand have had their average number of lead changes at Bristol go up with the implementation of progressive banking.

Spectators and viewers of last week’s race that complained of little to no passing need not worry for this week’s race at Bristol as there should be plenty of passing on hand. On three occasions in the last four years, the Sprint Cup Series races have had their number of successful passes for the lead hit the 20s, this has not been achieved since 1991. The last time a Bristol race only had the number of lead changes in the single digits was in the 2008 night race. This low number of passes appears to be a statistical anomaly as the last time before 2008 this occurred was in 1999.

Drivers won’t only be racing each other this Sunday, they may also be racing the weather as well. As of the time of this post; Bristol, Tennessee currently has a 70-percent chance of rain on Sunday with a 50-percent chance of precipitation on Monday. Should the race commence at its originally scheduled time, teams may be more likely to be racing aggressively to the halfway point of the race rather than pacing themselves for 500 laps.

With the potential intervention of the elements on Sunday, crew chiefs will be implementing strategies that we would usually not see on a clear and sunny day. Partner unique strategies with close racing action along with the threat of Mother Nature and you’ve got yourself the formula for another memorable Bristol affair.

The Food City 500 will air live on FOX this Sunday with coverage beginning at 1:00p.m EST.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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