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Mash The Gas: Bristol Preview

Two by two at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images]

Two by two at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images]

Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 23
2 p.m. ET
266.5 miles (500 laps);
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 125),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 250)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 500)
TV: FOX, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets back at it after the Easter off weekend as the drivers take on the high banks of the Bristol Motor Speedway in the Food City 500 Sunday afternoon.

Bristol is a tough, fast, half-mile steeply banked short track where fender rubbing action is the name of the game. Recent configuration changes have helped widen a second groove but Bristol still remains an aggressive race track.

With the high speeds and close quarters racing, the action happens fast at Bristol and here are some drivers to watch…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
Matt Kenseth has yet to win this season and so far his luck hasn’t been all that great as he only has one top five finish, but Bristol is the perfect place for him to turn that around. Kenseth is very good at Bristol, having conquered the Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin on his way to NASCAR, which is basically a smaller version of Bristol. He owns four victories at Bristol to go along with thirteen top five finishes and twenty top ten results. He also owns the best Driver Rating on the tour and he enters Bristol at enticing 12-1 odds. A few years ago, Matt Kenseth ended a long winless streak with a Bristol victory and he is positioned to do it again as his driving style features the right combination of aggressiveness and smarts needed to find victory lane here. Coming off a new sponsorship announcement that debunked a string of fake internet retirement rumors this week, look for Matt Kenseth to make a statement he can still get the job done on Sunday at Bristol.

Kevin Harvick (John Wiedemann)
Two weeks ago, Jimmie Johnson took back victory lane for the “old guard”. Maybe this weekend, Kevin Harvick will do the same. Harvick has two wins at the Colosseum, including a victory last fall where he led 128 laps. Harvick tops the series in laps led this season, but hasn’t yet been able to close the deal – due to a number of circumstances while still having one of the quickest cars on the track. With three stage wins so far, Harvick could use a Final Stage win in order to capitalize on those playoff points he has earned. Harvick is going to win this season – multiple times. He can start that victory total this weekend at Bristol.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Kyle Busch is another driver who surprisingly has yet to win this season and like teammate Matt Kenseth, he is very good at Bristol. Busch holds five Bristol victories and has eight top five finishes and thirteen top tens which slots him in with the second best Driver Rating. He enters this weekend at 6-1 odds and there’s no doubt he possesses the hard charging aggressive style needed to succeed at Bristol. However, Bristol does require some patience to do well too and Busch has worked hard at that part of the equation over the last few years. Kyle Busch has been very good at Bristol in the past and if he can avoid scrapes early, he should definitely be one to watch on Sunday.

Clint Bowyer (JW)
This could be the weekend that Clint Bowyer returns to a spot he belongs, victory lane. After playing the waiting game last season on a sub-par team, a happier and more productive Clint Bowyer is back at the front of the pack in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. In the seven races so far this season, Bowyer has a third place finish, two other top ten finishes and two eleventh place finishes. Bowyer’s worst finish was Daytona where he was caught up in a wreck. Yet to lead a lap this season, Bristol might just be the track where Bowyer shines. In 22 starts there, Bowyer has racked up six top five and ten top ten finishes with an average run of 15.7. In this race last season, Bowyer finished 8th, one of only three top tens he scored in 2016. Things are definitely looking up for Bowyer this season and a return to victory lane is coming soon.

Erik Jones (DM)
While this is Erik Jones’ first Cup start at Bristol, he does have experience driving a Monster Energy Cup car here as he subbed for Denny Hamlin back in 2015. Jones adapted well to Bristol and has also has had success in the Xfinity Series here too. Plus I have seen him race extremely well at similar short tracks in a super late model and that makes me believe he will fare quite well on Sunday. Jones is a 50-1 long shot this week but I feel he will surprise people as he seems to have the skills necessary to succeed at the tough Bristol half mile. He’s a good under the radar pick this weekend.

Joey Logano (JW)
Still looking for his first win this season, Joey Logano has to be happy to head to Bristol this weekend. In his last five starts at the half mile track, Logano has two wins and four top ten finishes. Bristol produces the kind of intense racing that fits right in to Logano’s style and he will be happy to mix it up at the front of the pack. A victory is just what Logano needs to join his teammate, who already has two victories, in the playoff hunt. Logano just had his best finish of the season with a third place run at Texas and just needs to pick up two more spots. Look for Logano to make a run for the pole and then continue from there. He will be tough this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DM)
Speaking of long shots, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is listed at 80-1 odds this week as he heads to Bristol Motor Speedway, his favorite track results wise. Stenhouse has three top five finishes in his eight Bristol starts including two second place finishes. Also his Roush-Fenway cars have shown marked improvement this season which should give Stenhouse plenty of confidence heading into this weekend. This could be Stenhouse’s race to break through with his long awaited first victory and he shouldn’t be forgotten about on Sunday.

Chase Elliott (JW)
With the best average finish (9.5) at Bristol, youngster Chase Elliott comes into this weekend just looking for a victory. Of course that average finish comes from the two races last season where he finished fourth in the spring and fifteenth in the fall, so there is a bit more history needed stats wise. But, Elliott led 14 laps in the fall race and so far looks to be comfortable with the #24 on the high banks of Bristol. There has been no sign of a sophomore slump for Elliott as he currently is second in the point standings with three top five and five top ten finishes in the seven races run. Elliott’s eighth place average finish should put some fear into his competitors as he is just going to get better. And that first race win is coming soon, maybe this weekend.

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