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NASCAR Bristol Sprint Cup Preview

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Kyle Busch won at Bristol in the spring
It's been called the ultimate short track experience. It's been called an angry bullring. It's a concrete loaded monster. It will reach out and grab a race car when the driver least expects it and create multi vehicle carnage. It can turn seemingly nice human beings into walking talking anger management issues within a mere matter of seconds.

It is the Bristol Motor Speedway and its next on NASCAR's Sprint Cup schedule this Saturday night with the running of the Sharpie 500.

WILL THIS RACE IMPACT THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?

Yes, it very likely that this race could become a rather decisive factor in the final 12 man roster competing for the 2009 Chase For The Championship. Bristol is first in line in a trio of races before the Chase line up is officially set. In fact, it would be safe to say that it would be amazing if it didn't impact the Chase in some way or fashion.

Taking a look at the Chase standings, going into Saturday's Bristol race, we already know that points leader Tony Stewart has clinched his berth and is now free and clear to improve on his three wins and run for the ten bonus points that comes with them. It's also safe to assume that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, second and third respectively, will clinch their Chase spots very soon and will also be in good shape.

Ranked fourth through seventh in the current points are drivers Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya. It's generally believed by many that this group will also be in the 2009 Chase line up but their positions are no where as secure as the top three. A run of bad racing luck at Bristol Saturday night, or at the remaining two pre Chase races, could make their team owners very nervous.

It's the drivers in positions eight through twelve that will bear the most scrutiny during the Bristol race. These drivers are the so called "bubble group", the drivers that could easily find themselves out of the Chase due to bad racing luck. The "bubble group" is currently comprised of drivers Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin.

Then there's the matter of a quartet of drivers who are on the outside looking in who could use the Bristol race to launch a serious run at the 12 man Chase line up. That's certainly true of Brian Vickers. Based on his win last Sunday at Michigan, Vickers now finds himself 13th in the points standings and only 13 points away from Martin in 12th. During the course of one very good afternoon Vickers has now become a major player in the Chase.

Ranked 14th in the standings is a seemingly rejuvenated Clint Bowyer. This Richard Childress Racing team is only 58 points away from the coveted top 12 and will be looking for a good run at Bristol to improve on that status.

In 15th place is a complete and total mystery. At the beginning of this season Kyle Busch was listed as one of the favorites to win the 2009 Sprint Cup championship. He already has three wins this year but some bad luck, combined with some ineffective runs, now has him wondering if he's going to make the Chase at all. He's 70 points away from the top 12 going into Saturday night's race. He has not been officially eliminated from the Chase but one more ineffective run, like last Sunday's Michigan race, and he might be.

The final Chase scenario belongs to David Reutimann who won his first Sprint Cup race earlier in the season. Reutimann is 118 points out of 12th and he will have to come on strong over the final three regular season events if he has any hopes at all of making the Chase.

With 43 cars lined up on a half mile track Saturday, in a racing environment where anything can happen without warning, the answer is a resounding yes: the Bristol could have a huge impact on the championship line up.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Saturday's Sharpie 500 has 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 13 of those entries are on the "go or go home" list meaning they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points and will have to make the starting field based on their qualifying speed.

Mother nature could become a viable player in this race. The Friday forecast for the Bristol area calls for a 70 percent chance of storm activity which could rain out qualifying. That will mean that the starting line up for the race will be set by the current points standings. It will also mean very bad news for eight teams on the "go or go home" list. The Saturday, race day, forecast calls for some clouds but a general clearing condition.

Kyle Busch won the first Bristol race this year, held last March, after starting from the 19th position.

Carl Edwards won the fall race last year after starting from the pole position.

However it's been proven that back markers can also win at Bristol. Elliot Sadler did it in 2001 after starting 38th.

Among the active drivers Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are tied for the most wins at Bristol with five each.

However Bristol is the home away from home to DW. Darrell Waltrip holds the NASCAR record for wins at this speedway with 12.

Bristol has sent 37 different winners to victory lane following a NASCAR sanctioned race. 16 of them went on to become multiple winners.

Bristol has been very kind to Chevrolet teams over the years. The bow tie brigade holds the track record with 41 wins.

The legendary Junior Johnson holds the Bristol record for most team owner wins with 21. This record was accomplished with five different drivers over the years with Johnson getting one of those wins as an owner-driver.

The most lead changes in a Bristol event is 40 set back in the spring of 1991. The fewest number of lead changes is an astonishing zero, set in 1973, when Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps of the race.

Track position is always important at Bristol and a good qualifying run is a highly coveted commodity. Ryan Newman owns the track qualifying record, set in March 2003, with a lap of 14.908 seconds/128.709 MPH.

Mark Martin holds the track record for pole positions, among active drivers, with eight. Cale Yarborough holds the all time record with nine poles.

22 times the race winner has started from the pole position.

Out of 97 NASCAR races at the track, 79 of them have been won by drivers who started from the top ten positions.

With that many cars lined up on a short track it's only natural that caution flags often plays a huge role in a Bristol race. The most caution flags in a race there is 20, three different times, with the most recent being in August of 2003. The most caution laps is a whopping 167 set back in 1965.

Zero is the number of the fewest yellow flags and caution laps and was set in 1971.

The number of caution flags of course determines the race attrition rate. The highest number of cars running at the finish of a Bristol race was 42 set during last year's spring race. The lowest number of cars at the finish was seven set during a crash festival back in 1966.

THE TRACK BREAKDOWN.

Ground breaking for the Bristol Motor Speedway occurred in 1960.

The first NASCAR sanctioned race was held there in July of 1961 and was won by Jack Smith aided by a relief driving stint from Johnny Allen.

In 1992 the original speedway went through a massive reconfiguration and became a .533 mile oval. The track's asphalt surface was changed to concrete at this time.

The track has progressive banking in the turns ranging from 24 to 30 degrees.

Racing on the track's straightaways is short and sweet. They are only 650 feet long.

Bristol is the only track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule that uses two separate entries to pit road. There are 21 pit stalls each on the front and backstretch. That's 42 pit stalls for a 43 car field meaning two teams will have to share a stall. But, in this age where start and park teams are plentiful, this should only be a temporary situation.

Getting in and out of a Bristol pit stall can often be a little treacherous. The stalls measurements are only 25 and a half feet long by 15 and a half feet wide.

The pit road speed is a slow 30 MPH.

The track has an impressive 160,000 seats. Even more impressive is the fact that this Bristol race is completely sold out for the 55th time.

THE TELEVISION BREAKDOWN, (ALL LISTED TIMES ARE EASTERN).

The Speed Channel will present live coverage of Friday's Sprint Cup practice sessions. The first session will be at 12 pm with final happy hour practice set for 2 pm.

ESPN2 will present live coverage of Sprint Cup qualifying, weather permitting, beginning at 540 pm.

ESPN will cover the Sharpie 500 live on Saturday beginning at 730 pm.

There are two scheduled re broadcasts of the race on Sunday at 3 am, on ESPN2, and 1 pm on ESPN Classic. The Speed Channel will present the third re broadcast of the race on Wednesday at 12 pm

THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based WSE-World Sports Exchange, those pundits of prediction, have Tony Stewart topping their win list at 7 to 1 odds. That's a good bet. Stewart, again, has already clinched his starting berth in the Chase and is free and clear to go for the wins and the bonus points.

Kyle Busch is also ranked at 7 to 1 to win Bristol. One has to assume that the WSE thinks that Busch will be going all out Saturday to work his way from 15th to the all important 12th position in the Chase standings.

Carl Edwards is also ranked at 7 to 1. Again, this is a good bet. He's the defending race winner who has a healthy track record at Bristol. Remember, there's a reason why the media often calls him "concrete Carl."

Four time Cup champion Jeff Gordon stands alone at 8 to 1 odds. Despite the chronic back pain he's suffered since last year, plus the physical demands of this race track, he actually has a good chance of getting his sixth win at Bristol.

Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin come in at 9 to 1 this week. It's speculated that Martin may be in a points racing mode. That disaster of a fuel mileage decision, last Sunday at Michigan, has him 12th in the standings and only 13 points away from falling out of the top 12. Hamlin, on the other hand, has a somewhat secure Chase status and may go for the win.

At 14 to 1 odds are drivers Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle. Joining them is Kurt Busch and I'm finding that a little hard to imagine. Perhaps the line of thinking here is the possibility that the elder Busch brother may consider doing some points racing to protect his sixth place in the Chase standings. But gut feeling tells me this just isn't so and Busch may feel secure enough with his current points to go for the win. This is a driver who has five Bristol wins at a track that he excels in. I'm now wondering if "Main Mama" will let put a few bucks on this driver.

Also on the WSE's Bristol ratings are a few long shot bets. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth are ranked at 20 to 1. Ranked at 25 to 1 are drivers Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jamie McMurray.

Time for the weekly disclaimer This is the part of the column where we need to remind you that NASCAR wants you to regard these numbers as a source of entertainment. They neither encourage or condone you placing wagers on their races.

But the only way you win the money is by placing the bets. All of you race winners can always budget the money to get an early start on Christmas shopping. I hear that the Official NASCAR Store is going to have some nifty gift ideas for the upcoming holiday season.

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