Toyota, specifically Joe Gibbs Racing, has dominated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, somewhat, at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway in recent years. The manufacturer lays claim to victories in five of the last eight Sprint Cup races at the track, all courtesy of JGR. The circuit heads to Bristol this weekend for Sunday's Food City 500, though, with its new race car for only the second race since the track was modified in 2012 to get back to the way racing was several years ago at the northeastern Tennessee track.
So far during the only-three-race-old 2013 season, NASCAR's top circuit has seen manufacturer parity with its new Gen-6 racer. The season-opening Daytona 500 was won by the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, the Phoenix International Raceway event the following weekend was won by the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford of Carl Edwards and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was driven into victory lane by Matt Kenseth last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Three races have resulted in three manufacturers in victory lane.
"You don't know -- it's (the new car's) been different everywhere we've went," Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, said. "Daytona was different than what we had before. Phoenix was certainly different than what we had before. Everybody is learning as fast as they can. We have to learn what it takes to trip this new car's trigger. Bristol is going to be another prime example of that. That's why I like the schedule the way it is - - you get a really good gauge of all the race tracks so you can figure out where you stack up against the competition."
And in all fairness, it hasn't hurt Toyota's campaign at Bristol Motor Speedway to have Kyle Busch behind the wheel of one of its entries. Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has five Bristol wins.
You have to have a really good feel here at Bristol
"You have to have a really good feel here at Bristol," Busch said. "You have to be on top of your game anywhere, but you've really got to have a good feel of the entry, center and exit, and just make sure you can get your car as free as you can to withstand the back of the car sliding around a little bit. But yet you still have to have good forward bite off the corners and you've got to be able to drive it hard and make up lap time when you lack."
But those five wins came on the configuration prior to the most recent facelift for the track. Add that to the new car variable and this one's too close to call for Toyota. Besides, reigning Sprint Cup champion and No. 2 Penske Racing Ford driver Brad Keselowski has rained on the Toyota/JGR/Busch parade at Bristol before. Two of those three non-Toyota wins in the last eight Bristol races were won by Keselowski. He drove a Dodge to victory lane then, but has since switched to Ford for this year. With everyone learning a new car, the manufacturer switch doesn't really look to be a big deal.
With all the nuances that will come with Sunday's race at Bristol, a favorite will be hard to pinpoint. While Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and Busch can't be singled out as favorites, they can't be counted out, either.