Everything is good in the NASCAR world right now. Ratings are way up over last year, a new driver in Trevor Bayne burst onto the scene with a win at Daytona, an old driver in Jeff Gordon won at Phoenix, and Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a race, nor is he in the top-10 in points. The only thing missing to make it the perfect season for the typical NASCAR fan is a Dale Earnhardt Jr. win, and that just may happen sooner than later.
NASCAR has made a lot of changes to ensure the 2011 season would be sexier with hopes of recapturing some of the lost audience that the ratings show. But before we start patting them on the back for a job well done, lets keep in mind that the beginning of 2010 was going head to head with the winter Olympics. The Las Vegas race saw nearly a 30% increase in rating from last year, but at the same time last years race was going on, the USA hockey team was playing Canada for the Gold Medal.
I must say that I have been caught up in the season thus far with an anxiousness for each race like never before. I’m not sure if it’s just withdrawals from the off-season or if I’m actually enjoying the racing more, but whatever it is, I’m all in and ready for the next green flag to drop.
For instance, I was bored and miserable with no racing this past week. Despite all the great college basketball conference tournament games and analyzing new talent in spring training baseball, I was in dire need of a NASCAR fix of Saturday practice followed by a Sunday race.
I’m not a Jimmie Johnson hater, in fact, I marvel at his talents and consistency, but maybe I am getting excited about the fact that someone else looks like they have a great shot at knocking him off this year. The last four seasons, I honestly didn’t see it happening. Johnson two levels above everyone, but this year we have Carl Edwards who looks to be the King in waiting.
This week at Bristol we get to see another hopeful to dethrone Johnson in Kyle Busch who has won three of the last four Bristol races. He is the current king of the half mile high banked track having won four times in his 12 career starts and it‘s likely he‘ll continue the domination this week.
Over the years at Bristol we’ve seen a few drivers come in and just dominate for long stretches at a time. We’ve seen it passed on down the line from Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon to Kurt Busch, and now Kyle. Waltrip compiled 12 wins over his career at Bristol.
Bristol celebrates its 50-year anniversary this week and it also marks the 10 year anniversary of the Wood brothers last win on the track with Elliott Sadler. That was the last win for the famed team before Bayne won at Daytona. For Bayne, born in Knoxville, he now gets a chance to race in a Cup race in front of his home state fans for the first time. It should be a nice moment, but definitely not worth a bet.
Kyle Busch is the large favorite because of all his exploits, but his brother should be right in the mix of things battling for a win. Kurt Busch is a five time winner at Bristol and finished in the top-10 in both races last season.
Carl Edwards is a two-time winner of the fall night race and looks to be back on track with horsepower under the hood to make him a solid contender there once again.
Jimmie Johnson won for the first time at Bristol in this race last season and should be expected to do well again this week, but it still is going to come down to Kyle. Chances are, if he stays on the track, he‘ll be in position to win again.
The wild cards on the track this week will be Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle from the Roush stable. Even before we saw a resurgence with their program late last year, they each had top-5 finishes in the spring race.
For good measure we can also throw in Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has been pretty consistent at Bristol despite his team woes everywhere else. He hasn’t finished worse than 18th since the spring of 2001. Last season he finished ninth and 13th and has a 2004 win under the lights to go his resume as well. Junior currently finds himself in the top-10 in points for the first time since April of last season.
Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #99 Carl Edwards (8/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (15/1)
4) #22 Kurt Busch (12/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)