Bristol: Round five preview

The Man Out Front: Kyle Busch Tops Two Series' Standings One Last Time: Dale Jarrett Ready For Career Finale In The Loop: Big Names Look To Regain Bristol Dominance NASCAR's New Car Marks First-Year Anniversary Wheel Man: Kyle Busch Rides ...

The Man Out Front: Kyle Busch Tops Two Series' Standings
One Last Time: Dale Jarrett Ready For Career Finale
In The Loop: Big Names Look To Regain Bristol Dominance
NASCAR's New Car Marks First-Year Anniversary
Wheel Man: Kyle Busch Rides Early-Season Momentum To Bristol

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 11, 2008) -- As accomplishments and admirers multiply, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) zooms from one track to the next these days, often at the front of the field.

This week, he heads to Bristol Motor Speedway as the defending winner of Sunday's Food City 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' latest victory -- last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"We've been fortunate with everything this year to run as well as we've run," Busch said, "and to be as fast as we've been at the places we've been so far. So we can only hope that it continues to be that way. We have a long year ahead of us and look forward to going to the race track."

In his fourth season and first at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings by 73 points over second-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 Jackson-Hewitt Ford). Back-to-back NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins (at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta) have him atop those standings, and he's third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.

Last week at Atlanta, Busch became the first driver to score a NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series weekend sweep.

A 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series victory will make him the first to win at least one race in all three NASCAR national series in four consecutive seasons.

Fast Lane Farewell: Dale Jarrett Prepares For Final Points Race

Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway marks Dale Jarrett's (No. 44 UPS Toyota) final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. And as the 1999 series champion prepares for his ride into retirement, he reflects on what has been his ride -- for 24 years.

"There is no better place than Bristol because it's the most special motorsports venue in the world as far as I'm concerned," Jarrett said. "I hopefully can go out on a good note on Sunday, but when I climb from the car, I'm sure it's going to be pretty emotional."

Sunday's start will be his 44th at Bristol, his highest total at any track and 668th overall. He has one win and 19 top-10 finishes at Bristol. Also a total of 32 series wins (among them, three Daytona 500 crowns).

The son of two-time series champion and respected broadcaster Ned Jarrett, Dale will follow his father into the booth later this season, serving as an analyst for ESPN/ABC. And he does have one more race -- the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May -- before completely hanging up his helmet.

"It's been a terrific career," Jarrett said. "Certainly I'm very appreciative of the opportunities that I was given by a number of car owners; the opportunity that NASCAR has provided for all of us."

Michael Waltrip Racing teammate David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) will succeed him in the No. 44, while youngster Michael McDowell takes over the No. 00 for Reutimann.

In The Loop: Kenseth, Gordon Hoping For Bristol Rebound

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Dish Network Ford) wasn't himself at Bristol Motor Speedway last season. Lately the dominant force on the bruising short track, Kenseth toiled in mid-pack during both Bristol races.

A strange place indeed for the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. In the four races prior to 2007 at the Tennessee track, Kenseth racked up two wins and three top-five finishes. His Average Running Position never dipped below 7.5 and his lowest Driver Rating over that span was 97.8 (he also had a near-perfect Driver Rating of 149.8 in his 2005 win -- the maximum is 150.0).

But last year, during finishes of 11th and 39th, Kenseth had a Driver Rating of 87.3 and 70.5, respectively, and Average Running Positions of 12.6 and. 14.4.

Clearly, Kenseth wants to get back up front. Now in the top 12 in the series standings, Kenseth has two top-10 finishes. Despite his 2007 Bristol troubles, he still ranks first in practically every key Loop Data category since 2005 -- Driver Rating (111.4), Average Running Position (6.8), Fastest Laps Run (212) and Laps in the Top 15 (2,759/91.8%).

Also anticipating Bristol is Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). With a fifth-place finish at Atlanta last weekend, Gordon jumped seven spots in the standings and now sits in 15th. Another strong finish at Bristol -- he has five career wins there, including two top fives in the last three races -- could launch the four-time series champion into the top 12.

Since 2005, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 103.1 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.5 (second), 120 Fastest Laps Run (fifth), 2,454 Laps in the Top 15 (second) and a series-high 124 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green).

This week is also key for drivers who aren't thinking about the top 12. This is the final race where the top 35 teams in the 2007 owner standings are guaranteed a starting spot. After Bristol, the 2008 standings will be the determining factor. That could spell trouble for Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford).

Mears, whose team is 30th, needs a strong finish to stay in the top 35. He has a Bristol Driver Rating of 55.4 (34th-best) and an Average Running Position of 27.1 (34th-best).

McMurray, 31st, likewise has struggled at Bristol. He has a Driver Rating of 67.5 (22nd-best) and an Average Running Position of 20.3 (18th-best) there. On the bright side, he fared well at this race last season, finishing ninth with a Driver Rating of 101.3.

Back To The Future: NASCAR's New Car Celebrates First Anniversary

Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol marks the one-year competition debut of NASCAR's new car -- the now-generation race car.

Kyle Busch, then with Hendrick Motorsports, won that day, by 0.064 of a second, and the new car raced 15 more times -- in 16 of 36 scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup events in 2007. In response to teams' feedback, NASCAR announced last May that the new car would debut fulltime in 2008, a year ahead of schedule.

Safety, competition and cost-containment enhancements all are crucial aspects of the car.

"A year ago when we first took the new car to Bristol, there was speculation amongst some that the splitter would fall off and the wing wouldn't hold up," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's Vice President of Competition. "We quickly saw that wasn't the case at all. I think everyone has learned a lot in a short period of time.

"People need to remember that this is just the second year of what was originally going to be a three-year rollout phase for the car, so we've just raced it 20 times going into this weekend. Along the way we've learned some things as they relate to pre-race and post-race tolerances, as we didn't have any race data to fall back on and neither did the teams.

"I want to compliment the teams on the job they've done in working on the new car; they've played a big role throughout this process. It will be fun getting back to Bristol this weekend."

Short Tracks Ahead: Bristol, Martinsville Offer Back-To-Back Drama

After opening the season with four consecutive superspeedway events, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams are revisiting the sport's roots.

Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol marks the first of two consecutive short-track events, always a welcome stretch on the schedule, and a challenge.

Bristol's high-banked, .533-mile surface is tough and unforgiving, as is .526-mile Martinsville Speedway, which will host the Goody's Cool Orange 500 on March 30.

After the Food City 500, teams will enjoy the season's first off week -- the traditional Easter holiday weekend -- before making the trek several hundred miles east to Martinsville.

Although both tracks are half-milers, it's an abrupt change from Bristol's concrete centrifuge to Martinsville's, tight, flat hairpin layout, yet one that never fails to supply excitement.

Last year, then-Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Busch nipped Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) at the checkered flag at Bristol, while reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) beat another Hendrick teammate, Jeff Gordon, by a similar close margin.

One difference: Busch's Bristol win jump-started a streak of five consecutive Hendrick victories, and 18 overall in 36 races in 2007.

Hendrick is winless thus far in 2008, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) the lone representative in the top 12 (he's sixth heading to Bristol).

It's That Time: Bristol The Last Chance To Solidify 2008 Top-35 Ranking

Following Sunday's Food City 500, the top 35 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner standings are guaranteed starting positions each week based on the 2008 standings.

The final owner standings of the previous season determine those spots through each season's first five events. So for several teams, this week represents the last chance to improve or entrench positions in the 2008 owner standings prior to race No. 6 at Martinsville Speedway.

The No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota driven by J.J. Yeley is 35th this week, 18 points ahead of the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge driven by former Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. and owned by Roger Penske.

Only 67 points separate positions 30-38, discomforting for reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti, whose No. 40 The Hartford Dodge, owned by Felix Sabates, is 38th.

NSCS Etc.

Harvick On Quiet Tear: Although this week's spotlight shines brightest on other NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, don't overlook Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet).

He's s third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, only 18 points out of second place and 91 points behind leader Kyle Busch.

Harvick also leads the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings following last week's second-place finish in that event at Atlanta.

And, he's a former Bristol winner, with one NASCAR Sprint Cup victory (April 2005) and four there in NASCAR Nationwide competition. He also has seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Bristol.

Harvick will compete in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Sharpie Mini 300, driving his own Kevin Harvick Inc., equipment.

Still A Factor: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), whose bid to win his second consecutive race this season was cut short by engine problems at Atlanta, likely will be difficult to ignore at Bristol.

He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series event there last March, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup event last August.

Last week's engine troubles cost Edwards 10 positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings; he's 17th heading to Bristol. The defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, he's currently second in that series' standings.

Up Next: Goody's Cool Orange 500 At Martinsville Speedway

Next Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway marks the fifth race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and defending series champion, won both Martinsville events in 2007. He has four career wins there.

Chesterfield, Va., native Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) is the defending pole winner.

Martinsville, the oldest and smallest (0.526-mile) track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, first hosted the series during its inaugural season of 1949.

The Race: Food City 500

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 16
The Time: 2:00 p.m. (ET)

The Track: .533-mile oval
The Distance: 266.5 miles/500 laps

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Kyle Busch
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, noon-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 11-11:45 a.m.; Final Practice, 12:20 -- 1:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Casey Mears , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Ned Jarrett , J.J. Yeley , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Roger Penske , Felix Sabates , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Michael Waltrip Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing