Bristol: Series round 5 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Bristol Bristol The Gateway To Short-Track Season Starting with Sunday's Food City 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams embark on two consecutive weeks of short-track racing -- a grassroots, throwback...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Bristol

Bristol The Gateway To Short-Track Season

Starting with Sunday's Food City 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams embark on two consecutive weeks of short-track racing -- a grassroots, throwback part of the schedule that's as tough and exciting as ever.

First up: Bristol Motor Speedway's high-banked half mile, site of the Food City 500.

Next up: The Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 on Sunday, March 28 at the tight, flat .526-mile Martinsville Speedway. Both tracks showcase the sport's close-quarters heritage; both continue to challenge today's standouts. As the series treks north to "Thunder Valley," plenty of intrigue follows.

A preview of Bristol-centric storylines:

Good short-trackers can dominate, as brothers Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) have done at Bristol. Pencil both in as guys to beat this Sunday -- Kurt for his previous five Bristol wins and Kyle as the defending champion of both 2009 Bristol events.

"Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit," Kyle said. "All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins, the closer quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 43 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time."

Richard Childress Racing is the surprise organization of 2010, rebounding from a forgettable 2009. All three drivers are in the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/ Pennzoil Chevrolet) as the leader, Clint Bowyer (No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet) fifth and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) sixth -- and all three are veteran short-trackers. Harvick and Burton each have a Bristol victory. Translation: Watch out.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Scotts Ford) and Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge) return to the track for the first time since their late-race run-in two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Beginning at Bristol, Edwards will be on probation for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup races due to his car's contact with Keselowski's, a move that sent the No. 12 airborne. NASCAR President Mike Helton announced Edwards' discipline last Tuesday.

Sunday's Food City 500 is the fifth race of 2010 and the last where teams in the top 35 of the final 2009 owner standings are guaranteed a starting spot. Beginning at Martinsville, the 2010 owner standings will be used to determine each week's top-35 guaranteed spots.

Can Paul Menard (No. 98 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Ford) and Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota) retain their positions through the short-track gauntlet? Both are in the top 12 for the first time in their short NASCAR Sprint Cup careers; both are off to excellent starts.

Expect Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) to be a factor in Sunday's Food City 500. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion also is off to a fast start, currently second in the standings and redeeming last year's 14th-place finish; he missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time.

And yes, he likes Bristol (two victories there).

Busch Brothers A Formidable Bristol Duo

Bristol Motor Speedway has spawned much NASCAR lore since its 1961 debut, but here's a fact perhaps overshadowed by decades of memorable events, personalities and statistics:

The high-banked half-mile is responsible for introducing Kurt Busch to the world.

NASCAR's world, that is.

The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion won his first series race there in March 2002, and he arrives this weekend tied with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) as the active leader in Bristol wins (five each).

Busch also arrives at an opportune time. He's the series' most recent winner -- two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway, prior to the justpast open week -- and comes to Bristol with momentum in his back pocket.

"We'd love to come in there this weekend and score another dominant win," Busch said, "but we'd be thrilled to get a victory no matter how it comes."

The Atlanta win (his first this season) boosted Busch nine spots to 10th in the current series standings. Bristol would seem a prime opportunity to climb higher, but Busch's last victory there came in March 2006. He's certain new crew chief Steve Addington -- who led brother Kyle Busch to a sweep of both Bristol events last year -- will have something to contribute.

"If you looked at perhaps our team's weakest link over the last several seasons, it'd have to be our overall performance on the short tracks," Busch said. "As a whole, I see us gaining strength, gaining momentum.

"But we know we have to get through this upcoming short-track portion of the season with the Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix races coming up and we couldn't have a better guy to lead our team in those races than Steve Addington."

Two days after the Atlanta win, Busch and Addington were back at work, testing their shorttrack program at the half-mile Greshman Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

"I think the time we spent there was well worth the time and effort," Addington said. "Kurt really liked the packages we tried there and we think it'll pay dividends in the upcoming weeks." Bristol excellence seems a family affair, so Kurt's toughest rival in Sunday's Food City 500 may well be his brother.

Kyle Busch has sparkled just as brightly in Thunder Valley, with three career wins there (the 2009 sweep and the March 2007 event). He also has won the track's last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, plus the March 2006 NASCAR Nationwide Series event.

Like Kurt, Kyle has carved his own groove in the half-mile arena, even more so after the track was repaved during the summer of 2007.

"Ever since I got through my rookie year I've just taken a liking to the place," Kyle said. "Of course, I've been able to get some help from my brother. He's always been really good there.

"But when they changed the track to this current surface I just really took to it right away. I really liked it and I've been fast there, but also I've had great cars from Joe Gibbs Racing."

Loop Data: Ambrose A Quick Study At High-Banked Bristol

Throughout his 51-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota) has established himself as a tremendous road-course racer.

Rightly so. At Watkins Glen, Ambrose has a Driver Rating of 106.9. At Infineon, it's 99.6.

In terms of the Loop Data statistic, The Glen ranks second, Infineon third.

But his best track? Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ambrose needed no time to adapt to unique Bristol "cereal bowl" layout. The high banks, fast speeds, tight confines and constant two-wide racing seemed to fit the Australian perfectly.

Ambrose explained his success at Bristol with a shrug of the shoulders: "Honestly, I have no idea how I took so quickly to Bristol and I don't know whether or not if I'm confident going back," Ambrose said. "It is a really tough track and you've got to do 500 laps around there somehow without having fender damage. I watched last year's race so I'm sort of mentally ready for it again. It went for a long time watching it on television -- let alone driving it. If you get the mindset that it's going to be a tough day, but you love the track and you love the challenge, then you are going to be okay."

Statistically, Ambrose proved his strength at all short tracks, not only Bristol.

That's important, considering the next two races are at such venues.

In the six short track races last season (two each at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond), Ambrose posted two top 10s, an average finish of 14.5, a Driver Rating of 80.8 (which was 14thbest), an Average Running Position of 16.3 and 47 Fastest Laps Run.

His numbers would have been even stronger if not for a poor Martinsville Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. In that event, Ambrose finished 27th with a Driver Rating of 42.6.

Still, a 14th-ranked Driver Rating in shorttrack events last season is impressive. He ranked ahead of Chase contenders Brian Vickers (15th), Carl Edwards (18th), Greg Biffle (21st) and Kasey Kahne (22nd).

Many familiar faces pepper the top 10 in Driver Rating at short tracks last season.

On the other end of the "surprise" spectrum at Bristol sits Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

Oddly, his stats aren't good there. Well, they're good. Just not "Johnson good."

At Bristol, Johnson has a Driver Rating of 82.5, making the track his second-worst in Driver Rating ahead of only Infineon (80.4).

Bliss, Conway Battling For Top 35 Status

It's a race within a race this Sunday at Bristol, where the checkered flag won't be the only goal for some NASCAR Sprint Cup teams.

The Food City 500 is the season's fifth event. It's also the last that will use 2009 owner points to guarantee the top 35 starting spots.

Beginning next Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, the top 35 teams in the 2010 owner points will be guaranteed starting spots each week. All others must qualify on time.

So who's feeling confident?

The No. 71 Chevrolet owned by Kevin Buckler and driven by Bobby Labonte might be the most comfortable, although that's relative since points can shift with each lap. The No. 71 is 30th in the current owner standings, 52 points ahead of 35th.

Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) is 31st, 49 points ahead of the cut-off line. Front Row Motorsports' David Gilliland (No. 38 Taco Bell Ford) is 32nd, 42 points ahead of 35th. Hornish's teammate, Brad Keselowski, is 33rd, only 19 points ahead of 35th.

Gilliand's teammate, Travis Kvapil (No. 34 Long John Silver's Ford), may be the most uncomfortable of those drivers above 35th; he's 34th, only nine points ahead of the cut-off.

Speaking of suspense, Mike Bliss (No. 36 Wave Energy Drink Chevrolet) is tied with Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Conway (No. 37 Extenze Ford) for 35th.

Outside the bubble, Boris Said (No. 26 Southern Pride Trucking Ford) is 37th, 24 points out; Robby Gordon (No. 7 Warner Music Nashville/Blake Shelton Toyota) is 38th, 27 points out; and Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota) is 39th, 29 points out.

Around The Track: Bristol Motor Speedway

Fans attending this week's NASCAR race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway have the happy dilemma of being able to race from special event to special event.

Along with Sunday's Food City 500 and Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Scotts Turf Builder 300, several fan-friendly activities are worthy of circling on calendars.

First is Friday's Food City Race Night fan festival -- a local tradition -- which will be held in Bristol Motor Speedway's exhibition area.

The festival opens to fans at 4 p.m., and once track activity concludes, drivers join the fun.

Among the activities:

Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford) and Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) are scheduled to participate in a question-and-answer session.

Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and his wife, DeLana, will participate in a Family Feud game with Stewart-Haas Racing's Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet) and his wife, Krissie. Proceeds benefit the Bristol chapter of Speedway Children's Charities. FOX's Matt Yocum will emcee. One fan will play on each team.

Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Ford) will defend his 2009 Wii Boxing tournament title against Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota), A.J. Allmendinger (No. 43 Insignia/ Best Buy Ford) and Scott Speed.

An autograph session features Harvick and other stars, plus legends David Pearson, Harry Gant and Dave Marcis. NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers include Steve Wallace, Trevor Bayne, Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier, Kelly Bires, Colin Braun and Eric McClure.

Show cars, simulators, souvenir rigs, free food tastings and live music also are included.

Following Saturday's Scotts Turf Builder 300, the second annual Legends race returns; this time, the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown.

It's a 35-lap race featuring some of NASCAR's most popular and accomplished former drivers. Scheduled to race are Charlie Glotzbach, Jimmy Hensley, Tommy Houston, Jack Ingram, Dave Marcis, L.D. Ottinger, Phil Parsons, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson.

The Scotts EZ Seed Showdown is scheduled approximately for 6 p.m.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Talladega Test: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams spent Tuesday testing at Talladega Superspeedway in advance of the Aaron's 499 on Sunday, April 25.

The one-day session addressed several mechanical questions, including gears, spoilers and the potential size of carburetor restrictorplate openings for the Aaron's 499.

"Today is primarily a confirmation test that the gear ratio we select is right and is compatible with the restrictor plate size," said John Darby, NASCAR Managing Director of Competition. "We've liked what we've seen thus far and the early morning session was real positive."

Charlotte Motor Speedway Test: NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will follow Tuesday's Talladega test with a two-day session on Tuesday, March 23 and Wednesday, March 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. They'll test spoilers on both days. Tuesday's session begins at 10 a.m. ET and ends at 6 p.m.. Wednesday's session also begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.

Milestones: Two NASCAR Sprint Cup champions and one four-time series runner-up could reach significant career plateaus at Bristol.

Four-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson seeks his 50th career victory in what should be his 295th start. If he gets it, he'll be the fourth-fastest driver to win 50 races.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin (No. 5 Chevrolet) seeks his 50th career Coors Light Pole, noteworthy since he won the poles for both 2009 events at Bristol (part of his series-high seven), and already has one in 2010 (Daytona 500). He's tied with Cale Yarborough for the all-time lead in Coors Light Pole Awards at Bristol.

The 2000 series champion, Bobby Labonte, seeks his 200th top-10 finish.

In the start department, Mike Bliss seeks his 100th while Clint Bowyer seeks his 150th.

Bristol SAFER Barrier Update: Track officials recently extended the barrier more than 160 feet at the exits of Turn 2 and Turn 4.

The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers will eliminate some of the surface gained during the summer 2007 repaving project.

Approximately four feet was added to the track in that project. The safety upgrade removes some of that real estate from the racing groove.

Up Next: Race 6 at Martinsville

The second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' short-track doubleheader is the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 next Sunday (March 28) at Martinsville Speedway.

The venerable .526-mile track in southern Virginia offers a different set of challenges, which include a flat, paper-clip-shaped layout that's tough on sheet metal and brakes.

History is significant here. Martinsville was on NASCAR's inaugural schedule in 1948, and is the only track from that season still on today's schedule.

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Martinsville wins. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson is second with six. Johnson is the defending winner of the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500.

Gordon also leads all active drivers with seven Martinsville poles.

Seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty leads all drivers with 15 wins at Martinsville. Three-time series champion Darrell Waltrip is second all-time with 11 wins. He also leads all drivers with eight Martinsville poles.

Petty leads all owners with 19 wins there Rick Hendick is second with 18 owner victories.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Food City 500
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, March 21
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 500 laps / 266.5 miles

TV: FOX , 12 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin
2009 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule prior to race day:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40.
Saturday -- Practice, 11-11:45 a.m. and 12:20-1:20 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Boris Said , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Max Papis , Colin Braun , Jimmie Johnson , Dave Marcis , Kevin Buckler , Trevor Bayne , Richard Petty , Jimmy Hensley , Kasey Kahne , Marcos Ambrose , Scott Speed , A.J. Allmendinger , Mike Bliss , Brian Vickers , Paul Menard , Phil Parsons , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , David Gilliland , Mike Helton , Kevin Conway , Eric McClure , Elliott Sadler , Brad Keselowski , David Ragan , Reed Sorenson , Kelly Bires , Charlie Glotzbach , Harry Gant , Cale Yarborough , Steve Wallace , John Long , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Travis Kvapil , David Pearson
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Richard Childress Racing , Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Front Row Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing