Bristol II: Round 24 preview

Two to Go: Bristol a Crucial Stop as Race to the Chase Winds Down DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 22, 2006) -- Hopes, dreams and expectations may be realized or dashed this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the .533-mile track known as "Thunder...

Two to Go: Bristol a Crucial Stop as Race to the Chase Winds Down

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 22, 2006) -- Hopes, dreams and expectations may be realized or dashed this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the .533-mile track known as "Thunder Valley" in Tennessee's Northeastern tip.

Expect sheet metal and bumpers to take a beating, too.

Saturday night's Sharpie 500 under the lights is an inevitable marquee event on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. And as the eighth stop in the 10-event Race to the Chase, its 500 laps of close-quarters racing can restore -- or ruin -- teams' 2006 agendas. For drivers battling for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and those looking to cement one, Bristol's high-banked half-mile could be a green light -- or a dead-end.

"It's one of my favorite tracks to race at," said Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). "The track is so fast and there's such a fine line between in control and out of control. I thoroughly enjoy racing there."

Plotlines vary, from 10th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) clinging to his spot to the handful of trailing drivers who'd like to seize it. Earnhardt leads 11th-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) by a mere 49 points.

Five drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 gained or lost positions following last week at Michigan International Speedway. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) is the most endangered, dropping five spots to ninth after enduing a blown engine at Michigan. He's only 35 points ahead of Earnhardt; 84 ahead of Kahne.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who, like Earnhardt, missed last year's Chase, soared three spots to sixth after a runner-up finish at Michigan.

And suddenly, drama emerges at the top: Second-place Kenseth shaved 66 points off standings leader Jimmie Johnson's (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) cushion thanks to his Michigan win -- Kenseth's third this season. He trails Johnson by 58 points.

"This is the race that probably makes all the race teams the most nervous," Earnhardt said. "It's just so unpredictable. You know you've got to be lucky and good. We're a team that is on the bubble right now, and we don't really have room for error."

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne