After racing a superspeedway, a one-mile track and an intermediate facility, the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway for its first short track test of the year -- Saturday's Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300.
The series has a log jam near the top of the standings heading into Bristol, with the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford of Sam Hornish Jr. leading the way. Hornish has been a fixture in the top-10 in all three races so far, including a win a week ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he looks to keep that streak going for a fourth week.
“It feels fantastic to be in the position that we are right now," Hornish said. "Greg (Erwin, crew chief), myself and everyone on the team have been working, practicing and planning for every contingency. So far it has paid off; we are still getting better too, which makes us confident that we are doing the right things."
Things are tight, as far as the championship standings go, right behind Hornish with three drivers tied for second spot, 19 points out of the lead. The No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier is in a three-way tie for second with a couple of drivers who swapped rides during the offseason, Elliott Sadler in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Brian Scott in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Like Hornish, Scott has been in the top-10 at the end of all three races so far this season, but also like Hornish, he's never won at Bristol. But even though he's never won there, Scott thinks he has the track figured out.
"You're constantly in the corner and it's a physically demanding track that has the ability to frustrate you," Scott said. "The outside line is the preferred line which is the nature of the beast. It's really hard to pass someone on the outside since you're already up high, so you have to make the bottom work in order to pass. That's the magic of the track, you'll need to make the bottom work to pass and get to the front and win the race."
Meanwhile, both Allgaier and Sadler have. Allgaier scored a win at BMS during his days of driving for Hornish's car owner Roger Penske. Sadler’s been to victory lane twice at Bristol. Bristol just happens to be the site of Allgaier's first-career win in the series. "Bristol is a very unique track, and it's also where I won my first race," Allgaier said. "The concrete racing surface is different from most the tracks we go to. I usually qualify pretty well there, which is a huge advantage at a short track. Starting up front means we don't have to play catch-up all day, and we can really focus on our own strategy."
While Scott doesn't have a Bristol win to his credit, and a few of his fellow-championship competitors do have as equally impressive runs going, Scott does have a streak a little longer than those claimed by his counterparts. He actually has the longest streak of top-10s going in the series, because his streak of consecutive top-10s goes back to last season in the next to last race at Phoenix International Raceway.
The championship is, indeed a tight one, early on in the 2013 season as the circuit heads to Bristol, but contenders won't just have each other to deal with. As a companion race to the Sprint Cup Series, Saturday's Nationwide event will be star-studded, as in there will be several Sprint Cup regulars on the starting grid on Saturday. Among them will be Kevin Harvick in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford and Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. And those aren't just any Sprint Cup Series regulars. It just so happens that all three of them are winners at Bristol at both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series levels. Busch has a total of 12 wins at Bristol across all three of NASCAR's national series (including the Camping World Truck Series). Four of those 12 have come in Nationwide competition.
“I always look forward to going back to Bristol, but I wait until our first practice session to really know where we stand," Busch said. "You expect to unload fast, but until you have that track time and see how the surface treats you, it’s a process to dial in the car the way you really want it.”