Food City 500 Preview
April 18, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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Editor's Note: This race was postponed on Sunday and will be held Monday.
Alright NASCAR, enough of this weekend off stuff. I realize it was Easter and your season runs from February through November with little time off, but it feels like there's an imbalance in my universe when a weekend comes and goes without a Cup race. I'm looking for more pieces of the puzzle in this frustrating season as a bettor and then you guys go and leave me hanging to stew.
But then NASCAR, you redeem yourself with a race on the high-banks of Bristol's half-mile bullring where drama always unfolds with lots of tempers flaring. I love NASCAR drama. Come on driver, how about a few paybacks for some issues unresolved?
Way to come back strong NASCAR! And thank you for not having this anticipated race coming off a bye not be on another 1.5-mile track. By the time Mother's Day comes around in May, I'll be ready for a race at cookie-cutter Kansas. But Bristol is a great break in between, then next week it's Richmond and then right after that it's Talladega. What an outstanding lineup for the next three weeks.
Although there has been seven races on the season, none of the data gained can be applied to Bristol's unique configuration. Martinsville is a half-mile also and we saw Brad Keselowski win there three weeks ago making him the season leader with two wins. But the big difference with Bristol is the high banking making to set-up requirements completely different from Martinsville. They are as different as two half-mile tracks can be.
Dover is the track I compare the most with Bristol even though it's a 1-mile layout, but the thing that correlates well between the two is the high banking and concrete surface. So when handicapping this weeks race, I don't have a lot to go off of outside of current form and past history at Bristol. Because of the banking, I'll mix in just a dash of what happened at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas.
As for past history, the active leaders in wins are Las Vegas' own Busch brothers with five wins each. It's been a while since Kurt Busch won, though. While driving for Jack Roush, he gobbled up wins in bunches to start his career, but the hasn't won there since 2006. Overall, he's led 1.062 laps and has 16 top-10s in 32 starts. While driving for Chevrolet and Dodge, he never won, but he's in a Ford again like he was with all his previous success.
Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with 1,959 laps led, but he hasn't been his usual self there in the past three seasons.
“I certainly look forward to Bristol and I definitely have over the years, whether it was the old surface or when they repaved it," Busch said. "It’s been kind of frustrating a little bit for me on the Cup side since the (track surface) grind and I haven’t figured that out all the way, yet. We’ve had fast racecars the last several times there, but different things have happened that have kept us from being able to finish those races off and win another one."
Last season the younger Busch was 38th and 39th in the two Bristol races. Since a second-place finish in the spring of 2013 he's gone six straight starts there without a top-5. However, his current form makes him someone to consider this week. After finishing 16th or worse in his first three starts, he's finished third at Phoenix, eighth at Fontana, second at Martinsville and 15th at Texas. At Martinsville he led a race-high 274 laps.
One of the best drivers over the past three Bristol races has been Kevin Harvick, who won the fall race last season, finished seventh in the spring and was runner-up in the fall of 2015. He's a two-time winner at Bristol and comes off his first top-5 finish of the season with fourth-place at Texas.
Point-leader Kyle Larson has been fast everywhere this season with four runner-ups and a win in seven starts. However, his worst finish -- 17th -- was at Martinsville where he wasn't able to flex all his engines muscles in tight quarters with cars slamming at all angles against him. Since coming into the series he's been at his best on tracks with lots of room, most of which are the cookie cutter and 2-mile layouts.
Chase Elliott might be a driver to consider this week based on current form and finishing fourth in his Bristol Cup debut last season. He was 15th in the fall.
The past two seasons of races at Bristol has seen Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have the best average finish with 9th-place. However, neither won during that span and both have just one win there over their careers.
Matt Kenseth is a four-time winner, the last coming in the spring of 2015. He's currently sitting 22nd in points with just one top-5 this season (third at Atlanta). However, his past three Bristol starts have seen him finish 42nd, 36th and 37th. Ouch!
The best long shots this week look to be Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, especially Bowyer. After being in a car the past few seasons that had no chance of winning, he's finally showing his true skills in a good car taking over for the retired Tony Stewart. Neither Bowyer or Newman have a win at Bristol, but I'm looking for both to be competitive and good bets in driver match-ups.
And of course if we're talking good current form we have to consider Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. These guys are good every week no matter type of track they're at. Keselowski won at Bristol in back-to-back races in 2011-12 and was runner-up in 2014. Logano finished 10th in both races last season, but won in the fall of 2014 and 2015. The main concern about betting Logano this week is that Kyle Busch still has a payback check he's waiting to cash and Bristol is the perfect place to punt someone and make it look like incidental contact.
One other notable mention in the long shot category is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who has three top-5 finishes in eight career starts. It's his best statistical track (10.6 avg. finish) and his Roush-Fenway Ford has been better this season than any of his past four seasons since being in the Cup series.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #20 Joey Logano (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (10/1)
5) #24 Chase Elliott (9/1)