Mash The Gas: Bristol Preview

Kyle Larson leads the field in a restart during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Kyle Larson leads the field in a restart during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

It’s back to the short tracks for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as the drivers head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
266.5 miles (500 laps)
Sunday, April 17 1pm ET
FOX, 12:30pm ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Bristol is a tough ultra-fast steeply banked half mile that requires just the right combination of aggression and skill to find victory lane. Unlike Martinsville two weeks ago, Bristol’s high banks allow the outside groove to be the preferred line around the “World’s fastest half mile oval.” Of course those high banks coupled with the speed often produce extremely tight racing and often times tempers flare at Bristol races despite a 2007 repaving that opened up the racing groove a bit.

Drivers who are both aggressive yet smart tend to have success at Bristol and here are a few to watch in the Food City 500 on Sunday….

Kyle Busch (Dan Margetta)
Kyle Busch heads to Bristol on a roll having swept the weekends at Martinsville and Texas. He’s pretty good at Bristol too, having scored five victories here to go along with eight top five finishes and thirteen top tens. However while Busch led the most laps here in the Fall, he hasn’t found victory lane at Bristol since 2011. Kyle’s wins do tend to come in bunches though and coming off victories the last two weeks, it’s hard to bet against him at Bristol where he enjoys an average finish of around 10th. He’s listed as the 5-1 favorite to win this week and he should be a main contender again on Sunday. Kyle Busch is my pick to win this weekend (unless his JGR teammate in that other yellow Toyota finally puts a complete race together).

Matt Kenseth (John Wiedemann)
The defending champion of this race, Matt Kenseth, looks to return and capture the flag again. Kenseth knows how to get around a high banked short track just like he did when he was growing up in Wisconsin and has four Bristol victories to prove it. At Bristol, Kenseth ranks at the top for driver rating and average running position while he is third in average finiah at 12.7. Kenseth continues to look for consistency and an elimination of the luck he has had this season that has him placed twelfth in the standings with only one top ten in the seven races run so far. This might be the weekend that he turns it all around.

Joey Logano (DM)
Joey Logano should have no problem being aggressive enough to conquer Bristol and he has proven he is tough to beat at Bristol, having won two of the last three races held here. Logano won the most recent race held at Bristol last August and his aggressive style should place him in the mix again on Sunday. Logano is listed at 6-1 odds and he has been up front just about every week this season. To be successful at Bristol, a driver has to race hard all day as there is no time to blink and that describes Joey Logano’s driving style perfectly which should make him a strong contender to be in victory lane on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (JW)
Guess who has the second best average finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s the guy that you expect to win on the biggest tracks on the circuit, Dale Earnhardt Jr. With an average finish of 11.955 Junior slots right behind Kyle Busch’s series leading 11.952. Earnhardt has one win to go along with seven top five and 15 top ten finishes. He hasn’t been as good as he was right before Bristol was repaved, where Earnhardt picked up the victory in 2004 and scored five of his top fives between 2002 and 2006. But, right now could be a time for an uptick as he has had three top ten runs in his last six races there. Plus, Junior has just been running better overall in the last two seasons. 2016 is continuing with solid finishes with Earnhardt scoring three top five and four top ten finishes in seven events and two runner-ups including last weekend in Texas. So, I am going out on a bit of a limb and picking Junior to win at Bristol this weekend. My real pick is for Kyle Busch to continue the streak, but Dan already picked him.

Kurt Busch (DM)
Like his brother Kyle, Kurt Busch also has five Bristol wins to his credit as well as eight top five finishes and fifteen top tens. However, much of that success occurred before the track repave in 2007. His last Bristol victory was in 2006 which has led to Kurt Busch being assigned 12-1 odds to win on Sunday. Don’t count Kurt Busch out however as he still is one of the most aggressive drivers on the track and should have success this weekend at Bristol. Busch will be driving the same chassis that finished fifth at Charlotte last October and he will be one to watch on Sunday.

Greg Biffle (JW)
Greg Biffle has had good success at Bristol in the past with a pole, six top fives and 13 top ten finishes. Biffle has a fourth best average finish of 13th and is in the top ten of the statistical categories that NASCAR tracks. Even though Biffle has been kind of in a rut lately, he will be one to watch at Bristol this weekend and the reason has nothing to do with the stats that are listed above. The reason to watch Biffle is because he is ticked off, as are a lot of drivers, at Kasey Kahne. After getting wrecked last weekend, Biffle’s crew chief, Brian Pattie, sent out the message that Kahne has one coming. When a driver “has one coming”, there are two places that he will likely “get it”. One is Martinsville, as we saw last season, and the other is Bristol Motor Speedway. Look where we are this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DM)
Once again Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a long-shot pick this week as he comes in at 100-1 odds. This time however, he is racing at Bristol which is his best track performance wise. His average finish here is 11th and despite a 21st place finish in August, his previous Bristol finishes have been fourth, sixth, and second. Plus Stenhouse has shown the most improvement among the Roush-Fenway drivers and already has a top five finish to his credit. Conquering Bristol requires getting up on the wheel and Stenhouse is plenty capable of that. I think Bristol is his best shot at capturing his first victory and I’m making Ricky Stenhouse Jr. my long shot pick this week.

Kasey Kahne (JW)
Kasey Kahne will be one to watch because as a mentioned earlier, Greg Biffle may be gunning for him along with a number of other drivers in the field. Kahne hasn’t made very many friends lately and Bristol is a great track for payback. Even the bottom end of the pack drivers are able to deliver a little retribution at Bristol. Even if Kahne doesn’t get blatantly wrecked, which may very well happen, other drivers will probably make his day very eventful and difficult to get around the track. Throw into the mix that Kahne has a win at Bristol and tends to run in the top five and you have a mixture of reasons to keep an eye on the #5 car. It’s retribution… oops, I mean Bristol, baby!

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