Mash The Gas: Bristol Preview

The first short track test of the season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the new Gen 6 cars occurs this weekend on the ultra fast and tough Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. This is the second event held on the track since it was revamped to bring it back to its historic high banks and tight quarters racing that often rewards aggression and boils over emotions. Who can forget last fall’s Tony Stewart helmet toss against Matt Kenseth’s hood as Bristol returned to its traditional intense roots? This season’s initial Bristol trip brings with it new race cars to go along with the rough and tumble racing and here are some drivers to watch on Sunday…

Kyle Busch
Dan Margetta: When it comes to tough race car drivers who refuse to lose, Kyle Busch rises to the top and his five Bristol wins prove he’s the man to beat at Bristol. Bristol requires a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude and Busch provides that nearly every time he slides into the seat. The last time NASCAR brought a new car to Bristol in 2007, Kyle Busch was in victory lane afterward and he should be the favorite to repeat that feat in 2013.

John Wiedemann: Kyle Busch is a solid pick this weekend. It looks like Toyota may have solved their engine issues and starting with Matt Kenseth’s Vegas win, Joe Gibbs Racing may get on a roll. Busch has five wins in sixteen races at Briston and finished sixth last year after the track surface was redone. But, just look at last spring’s finish of 32nd after getting caught up in a wreck to see that anything can happen at Bristol.

Matt Kenseth
DM: Matt Kenseth rides a wave of momentum into Bristol coming off an impressive Las Vegas win where he used experience and savvy driving to hold off a much faster Kasey Kahne for the victory. That experience could come into play at Bristol where Kenseth should feel right at home, having come up through the ranks racing at the similar Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin. Kenseth has scored wins at Bristol and is 10.3 average finishing position is second best and he finished a close second in this race a year ago.

JW: Matt Kenseth brought Joe Gibbs Racing it’s first win of the season last weekend and could turn that finish into a win streak this weekend at Bristol. As long as the engine issues are a thing of the past, and it looks like they are, Kenseth is showing that he will be at the front. Kenseth moved up eleven positions in the points into a solid seventh place and should climb a little bit farther this week.

Brad Keselowski
DM: “Bad Brad” has won two out of the last three Bristol races and the team is performing like champions in the opening races of this season. With top five finishes in each of the first three races in 2013, Keselowski is a threat to win every weekend and the defending Sprint Cup champion is ready to break through to victory lane.

JW: Brad Keselowski is my pick to win this week adding to his two wins in six races at the track. Penske Racing has a great history at Bristol with Rusty Wallace dominating at the track and Kurt Busch picking up the wheel after Wallace retired. Keselowski has been carrying on the tradition and this weekend will be no exception.

Kevin Harvick
DM: Harvick has one Bristol victory to his credit and like Kyle Busch is a hard driver to push around. Harvick can dish it out with the best of them and if he can avoid getting tangled up in trouble early, he should get stronger as the race progresses and be there to challenge for the victory.

Kasey Kahne
JW: Kasey Kahne, with his second place finish at Las Vegas, dug out fifteen spots from his early season hole in the point standings and currently is in fourteenth place. A solid run this weekend is what the Hendrick Motorsports driver needs this weekend to jump up into the top ten. Kahne has had great starts at Bristol and seven top ten finishes including a ninth place run in the fall race last year. .

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM: Dale Jr. owns the best average finishing position at Bristol at 9.8 and currently sits third in the points, just ten markers out of the lead. Bristol provides the meat and potatoes kind of racing Junior seems to thrive on with little regard for finesse. An early win in 2013 would be huge for Earnhardt and the #88 team as they appear to be serious in chasing their first championship.

Jimmie Johnson
JW: The current points leader has shown that Hendrick Motorsports is ready with the Gen6 car and will improve on it as the season continues. Johnson has one win at Bristol in the 2010 spring race and has a great run of seven top ten finishes in the last eight races. Johnson finished second in last year’s fall race after the track resurface, add that to his early season success this year and the result is Johnson will be a contender this weekend.

Kurt Busch
DM: A staple for a long shot pick every week, Kurt Busch boasts five Bristol career victories including three in a row in 2003-2004. Kurt has always adapted well to Bristol’s high banks and the #78 team is plenty capable of pulling off a win. I know we say that every weekend, but if they could just put together a mistake free race, everyone would see this team is better than the results they have posted so far in 2013.

JW: I predicted a win for Kurt Busch at Bristol in last week’s column and I’m backing off of that a little bit. I’m sensing a little more growth needed in the #78 Furniture Row team. That being said, Busch is scary good at Bristol and one would believe he would have a shot if they gave him a truck to compete against the Sprint Cup cars. A win would be a great way for the team to rally and climb up the standings, and it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
DM: If Bristol takes attitude to get the job done, Stenhouse brings in a ton of it brimming with confidence. With sprint car roots that required him to get to the front in a hurry on tight racetracks, Stenhouse has the potential to run well at Bristol this weekend. If the team and especially the spotter can keep Stenhouse’s head on his shoulders as the veterans try to push him around, the #17 car could be one to watch on Sunday.

JW: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has really shown that he belongs and has what it takes to hold the wheel in the #17. With finishes of 12th, 16th and 18th in the three races so far, Stenhouse has proven that he has the talent and poise to drive in the Sprint Cup Series. Bristol will be a big test for the rookie, but I expect him to pass the test and bring his Ford home with a top fifteen finish.

Brian Vickers
DM: Brian Vickers makes his 2013 Sprint Cup debut at Bristol driving the #55 car normally piloted by Mark Martin in a majority of the races. Vickers and the team performed extremely well at Bristol last year as they chalked up finishes of fifth and fourth respectively. This is a car and driver that could fly under many people’s radar this weekend only to suddenly grab everyone’s attention late in the going when they are in contention to win.

Denny Hamlin
JW: The winner of last fall’s race at Bristol, after the resurface, was Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who according to NASCAR made a “disparaging” comment regarding the Gen6 car when he was asked about it, needs to have a good finish to pay for the $25,000 fine that NASCAR assessed him. After Hamlin explained that he would not pay the fine, NASCAR decided they would just take the $25,000 out of his winnings. As long as Hamlin qualifies for the race, he should be able to afford the fine. Scott Riggs took home the least amount of winnings in the August Bristol race, $85,750.

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