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NASCAR Bristol Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Fresh from a weekend off, the elite from NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series returns to work this Sunday at Thunder Valley: the Bristol Motor Speedway. It's what used to be known as NASCAR's semi annual demolition derby where 43 full sized stock cars lined up on a half mile track and everyone occupying the speedway's 160,000 seats knew full well what was coming.

In these more modern times the speedway has been reconfigured to the point where passing is possible without the traditional rear bumper ramming to move someone out of the way. But, make no mistake about it, it's still Bristol and it's going to be fun.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Let's start with the obvious: Edwards versus Keselowski. Has the sands of time from a weekend off healed the wounds that were created at Atlanta? No way. But don't look for any repeat activity this Sunday in Bristol. After all, Edwards officially begins a three race probation period, termed by many as an early Christmas present, and the last thing he's going to need during that period is more on track altercations with the brash Keselowski or anyone else for that matter. Edwards also needs to be spending this time concentrating on strong finishes, to make up for lost points, while keeping his focus on the grand prize: making the Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship.

Brad Keselowski also has some points issues to be concerned about this weekend. While he's garnered a lot of attention, he has not garnered an abundance of strong finishes during the early part of this season. He now finds himself with issues relative to NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. That's the stats that guarantees a Sprint Cup team a starting berth in future races. In other words, if you're within the top 35 you're in the next race.

NASCAR uses the owner's points final standings from the previous season during the first five races of a new season. After that point the current standings become effective. Bristol is race number five. The Keselowski team is currently 33d in the owner's points and a precarious 19 points ahead of the team in 36th. That situation is another off shoot from the Atlanta incident with Edwards. Keselowski was on the way to a top five finish before the late in the race roll over was launched. None the less it's go time at Bristol for Keselowski. He, like Edwards, needs to focus on a strong finish to make up lost championship and owner's points.

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Then there's the matter of the traditional Bristol story line centered around anger management. This race will drain a driver mentally as fast as it physically. The speedway has short straightaways, 650 feet long, meaning the drivers only have a scant second to relax their arms before they have to make the next left turn.

There's always the situation that a driver may get the urge to return some of the beating and banging that naturally presents itself during a Bristol race. That's where the patience angle becomes so important. The drivers will have to protect their equipment especially the brakes. They will also have to protect their fenders. Crumpled sheet metal is easy to achieve at Bristol and that could lead to a cut tire. An unscheduled pit stop at Bristol is going to place a driver at least two, possibly three, laps down.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

To no real surprise the Las Vegas based WSE-World Sports Exchange, has gone with consistency by placing driver Kyle Busch at the top of their Bristol rankings with 6 to 1 odds. That's a very good call in light of the fact that the younger Busch brother swept both Bristol Sprint Cup events last year.

Second on the list is Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Motorsports Toyota. Perhaps thinking that Hamlin is overdue for a win, and often performs well on short tracks, the WSE has placed him at 7 to 1.

A rather interesting ranking here is Jimmie Johnson at 9 to 1 to win Bristol on Sunday. The WSE may also be thinking that the reigning Sprint Cup champion is overdue for a Bristol win which is one of six tracks on the Cup circuit where he has yet to visit victory lane.

The first of two surprises, from this week's Las Vegas report, are the names Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick at 10 to 1. This is actually a very solid wager. Jeff Gordon is a five time Bristol winner. Kevin Harvick is also a previous winner there and has been on a hot finish streak in 2010 that has him on top of the championship points standings.

The second surprise is Kurt Busch at 12 to 1 odds. That's amazing considering the elder Busch brother is also a five time Bristol winner and is coming off the momentum of a strong winning effort at the Atlanta race. Also in that same grouping are drivers Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart.

Taking a look at the bottom end of this week's WSE listing you'll find Jeff Burton at 14 to 1 followed by the trio of Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle at 16 to 1. Rounding out the list, at 20 to 1, is the quartet of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

The disclaimer: again, NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers should be viewed as entertainment. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races. Normally, I would suggest some NASCAR themed alternate use for your gambling money. Sorry race fans I can't do that this weekend. When I see five time winners Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch at those odds we should all be calling Las Vegas.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Food City 500 is 500 laps/266.5 miles around the Bristol Motor Speedway's 0.533 mile all concrete oval. The speedway has progressive banking in the turns ranging from 24 to 30 degrees.

The race has 45 entries. Eight 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 must earn a starting berth in the race based on their qualifying speeds.

Pit stops are very unique at Bristol because the speedway technically has two pit roads with 22 stalls on the front stretch and 21 stalls on the backstretch. That makes entering and exiting the pits somewhat challenging. That challenge is enhanced by the fact the pit stalls only measure 25.5 feet by 15.5 feet. The pit road speed is 30 MPH.

The Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted 98 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since 1961 that has sent 37 different winners to victory lane. Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch leads the active drivers with five wins each. Darrell Waltrip leads the all time list with 12 trips to the Bristol victory lane. Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 41 wins.

Mark Martin owns all of the strong finish stats at Bristol. Martin leads all driver in top five finishes:16, top ten finishes: 23 and he's set fast time in qualifying nine times.

Ryan Newman holds the track qualifying record at 128.709 MPH set in March of 2003. On 22 occasions a Bristol Sprint Cup race has been won from the pole position.

Once again the weather could play a role in a NASCAR weekend. Saturday's forecast for the general area calls for sun mixed with clouds, daytime highs in the low to mid 60's and a 20% chance of rain. Sunday race day calls for a 30% chance of rain with highs in the upper 50's.

The Food City 500 will be broadcast live by Fox Sports beginning at 12 pm eastern. The rebroadcast will be Wednesday, March 24th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.

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