A new winner could come out of Bristol

The top five Monster Energy Cup drivers with the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages in Happy Hour at Bristol Motor Speedway have yet to win on NASCAR’s top tour in 2017.

A new winner could come out of Bristol
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford and Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford and Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford

Kasey Kahne was fastest in the category with a speed of 127.482mph. He won the spring Bristol race in 2013. But it’s been 90 races since Kahne’s last victory — at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014. 

Clint Bowyer’s drought is longer. His last win? The 2012 Charlotte fall race. Bowyer’s best finish at Bristol? A pair of thirds after the first reconfiguration of the half-mile track in 2007.

Joey Logano has become a perennial Cup contender since moving to Team Penske in 2013. He’s amassed 15 of his 17 career wins in the No. 22 Ford. Logano has finished sixth or better in six of the seven 2017 races. He’s also the most recent Cup winner of this bunch — the 2016 fall Phoenix race — and at Bristol, where he’s won two of the last five races.

Kyle Busch dominated the Brickyard in 2016, winning both the Cup and Xfinity races from the pole. He flirted with victory two races ago at Martinsville when Busch finished second to Brad Keselowski after leading 274 laps. Busch, who ranked fourth in the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average (127.156mph) in Happy Hour at Bristol, also posted the fastest single-lap speed in second (128.865mph) and final practice (128.563mph). 

The place for Jones to get that first win?

Although rookie Erik Jones has yet to win his first Cup race, he’s the most recent of the five drivers to visit Victory Lane — with his Xfinity Series win on Saturday

But Jones has been fast all weekend at Thunder Valley in the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Camry. He topped the speed chart for single-lap speeds in first practice on Friday (Busch was second). Jones was second to Busch in single-lap speeds in second practice but posted the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average run — 127.178mph. He was sixth in single lap speeds in Happy Hour but fifth overall in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average. 

On Saturday, Jones, who was the defending winner of the spring Xfinity race at Bristol, returned to Victory Lane again. Although the NXS car differs from Jones’ Monster Energy Cup Series ride, having the additional 300 laps at Bristol under race conditions could prove invaluable for the driver once the green flag flies in the Food City 500.

“The biggest thing for me, that I was trying to pay attention to, was the way the track was going to move around,” Jones said. “It actually moved around a lot more than I thought and a lot quicker than I thought. The first run was at the bottom, but right after that we went to the top and then we kind of went back to the bottom. Then after the rain came we knocked all the rubber off, especially all those clumps on the bottom and then it was right on the bottom the rest of the way. 

“It was really interesting to see that. It doesn’t look like there’s visibly much VHT left, but there’s still a lot of grip down there. It was really interesting to see that and I think that’s the biggest thing is that you have to adjust your car for both lanes and after that one run I thought, ‘Man, we have to make our stuff good on the top now,’ and then we moved back to the bottom. It was kind of a challenge to keep up with, but I think we learned a lot for (the Cup race).”

Ryan Blaney's chances

Not surprisingly, Jones greatest competition in the Xfinity race came from his fellow Cup drivers Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Larson’s 180 laps were the most led in the event, but a cut tire followed by a commitment line violation mired the No. 42 in traffic. He recovered to finish seventh. Larson, the Cup series points leader, rolls off first in the Food City 500 after qualifying was cancelled by rain.

Blaney picked up his third second-place finish in as many NXS starts this season. But the side-by-side racing — which inevitably resulted in a bump-and-run by Jones for the lead — prepared the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford for what he can expect in the Cup race. 

“The race track was interesting today,” said Blaney, who starts sixth on Sunday. “There was a lot of rubber build-up on the bottom when you get a bunch of cars out there and that’s just gonna get worse (on Sunday). It’s gonna clump up a lot.You kind of saw that at Martinsville a handful weeks ago. On long runs it kind of clumps up on the bottom and with this rosin it does it even quicker. It lays that rubber down even faster, so your car has to kind of get over those fairly decent and under caution your tires pick all that up, so you’ve got to make sure it’s definitely clean.  

“But I was pretty excited to see the top come in, to be honest with you, after maybe 30 laps or so you could roll the top pretty good and I felt like that gave you decent options as far as running the bottom, running the top. With lapped cars and things like that you could maneuver fairly well, so that showed hope. I wasn’t very hopeful at all in Cup practice or Xfinity just because it was so fast on the bottom and moving up you were slower, but it was nice to see us being able to move around and, like I said, in the Cup cars that’s just gonna get worse (on Sunday) laying down rubber on the bottom and up top. It’s the most rubber I’ve ever seen laid down here in a long time and it will definitely be very challenging.”

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