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NASCAR Bristol Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, March 16, 2012

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Kyle Busch dominated at Bristol last spring.  Can he do it again?
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be rolling into Thunder Valley this weekend: the Tennessee based home of the Bristol Motor Speedway. This half mile concrete oval is the home of some of the finest short track racing you'll ever want to see. The track is a true test of a race driver's skill and it's also the ultimate test of a driver's patience. When you put 43 cars on a half mile track, Thunder Valley can turn into Blunder Valley real quick.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

One of the major story lines, that will bear a lot of scrutiny during the Bristol weekend, will be the mood of Mother Nature. According to preliminary forecasts, from the National Weather Service, the prospect of the entire weekend schedule not being disrupted by rain is unlikely. That forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain and thunder storms on Friday and Saturday along with a 30% chance of rain on Saturday night and Sunday race day. The speedway has four jet dryers available that takes approximately one hour to dry the surface.

The major story you will hear a lot about this weekend is the final appeals process regarding the penalties levied against Jimmie Johnson's #48 team from Daytona. Last Tuesday, the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld those penalties levied against the team which includes a six race suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. The final appeal hearing will now go before the panel's arbitrator. A final decision could come as early as next Tuesday afternoon. This story has been ripe with speculation since Daytona and you can expect more this weekend as it heads towards the final conclusion.

Yet another story, involving a lot of speculation, involves Dodge Motorsports and the recent unveiling of that beautiful Charger race car. However, with Roger Penske Racing's recent announcement of plans to switch from Dodge to Ford, the big question remains: exactly who is going to drive the new Dodge cars in 2012? More importantly is the question regarding who is going to build the engines for these cars?

Brian Vickers will be making his first start of 2012 this Sunday. The Bristol race will be the first of six events with Vickers in the seat of Michael Waltrip Racing's #55 Toyota normally driven by Mark Martin. Vickers has been seeking a full time ride in Sprint Cup racing since late last year following the demise of Red Bull Racing.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

So, who's going to make some thunder and who's going to commit a blunder at the Bristol Motor Speedway? To determine the answer to that question we once again turn to the number crunching professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

The WSE's Bristol rankings begins with the obvious: Kyle Busch ranked at 5 to 1 odds to win the Food City 500. He many be ranked 12th in the current NASCAR Sprint Cup championship standings, but he's absolutely ranked first at Bristol because of his amazing stats there. That includes five wins, seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes along with an extremely good average finish ratio, (AFR), of 9.1. By the way, these impressive numbers have been created in only 14 starts. This driver seems to shine on short tracks and has the stats to prove it from all three of the short tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule: Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. Those stats include eight wins and a 10.2 AFR. Also bear in mind that this is the driver who swept Bristol in 2010 by winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide and Sprint Cup events during the same weekend.

At 7 to 1 you will find the duo of Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Johnson is a former winner at Bristol and has six top fives along with a 14.9 AFR. He does have some impressive stats from the NASCAR short tracks, including ten wins, but only one of them have been at Bristol. Between the aforementioned penalty against his team, which claimed 25 championship points, and a lap two wreck at Daytona, Johnson began the season 44th in the championship standings. However strong runs at Phoenix and Las Vegas has moved the team to 23d. While the team is awaiting the final word on their appeal, it appears that they do not bow down to adversity. Johnson is also a rock solid wager.

So is Stewart even though his Bristol numbers aren't that strong. He's a former winner there, but it was way back in 2001. He does have six top fives and a 17.4 AFR as well as six wins on NASCAR's other two short tracks. He will be bringing the strong momentum of last Sunday's win at Las Vegas. By the way, Stewart is a little ahead of his normal schedule this year. Normally he doesn't catch fire until the hot weather of summer arrives.

Standing in his own separate category is Carl Edwards at 8 to 1 odds. Edwards is a two time winner at Bristol with the last trip to victory lane there being in 2008. He also has four top fives, seven top tens and a healthy 12.3 AFR. He also seems to shine on concrete covered race tracks, such as Bristol, and is often referred to as "Concrete Carl."

The WSE has drivers Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick ranked at 10 to 1 odds for Bristol. Gordon has some strong Bristol numbers that includes five wins, 15 top fives, 21 top tens and a healthy AFR of 11.5. Despite the fact that it's been awhile since his last Bristol win, Gordon is still a strong driver on short tracks, with 15 wins, and is considered to be a strong wager consideration.

Harvick has a previous win at Bristol, from the 2005 race, along with nine top fives, 12 top tens and a 12.5 AFR. He's been a very consistent finisher so far in 2012 and is ranked second in the points. He also should be regarded as a serious wager consideration.

At 12 to 1 odds you will find the trio of Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth. Hamlin is still looking for his first Bristol win. He has three top fives, six top tens and a 15.5 AFR. But there is an aspect to Hamlin that can't be overlooked: he's very good at short track racing and has six combined wins at Martinsville and Richmond.

Kasey Kahne, in his new ride with Hendrick Motorsports, is off to a surprisingly sluggish start and is ranked 26th in the points. His Bristol numbers aren't that good: zero wins, three top fives and a 18.7 AFR. But the law of averages says this highly potent team is going to turn their situation around and soon. That's why they're rated at 12 to 1.

Never make the mistake of overlooking Matt Kenseth and his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. He's a two time Bristol winner with nine top fives and a 12.0 AFR. At 12 to 1 odds, this is a worthy long shot wager.

Turning to the WSE's middle tier, you will find drivers Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle ranked at 15 to 1. Keselowski is a former Bristol winner but seems to be a little bogged down in the early going of the 2012 season. He's currently 21st in the points standings and the possibility of another strong run at Bristol could turn this situation around.

Meanwhile Biffle, and his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, is on fire and currently leads the points standings. He's still seeking his first win on a NASCAR short track but he does have six top fives at Bristol and a healthy 11.8 AFR. Biffle, like his RFR team mates Edwards and Kenseth, is also a solid long shot consideration.

Here's another interesting long shot. That would be Dale Earnhardt Jr at 20 to 1. Despite that long winless streak, the #88 Hendrick team is off to a strong start and are currently fourth in the points. Earnhardt likes racing at Bristol. He's a previous winner there and has compiled seven top fives, 12 top tens and a healthy 11.7 AFR.

Looking at the WSE's lower tier for the Bristol race, Martin Truex Jr is ranked at 23 to 1 while team mate Clint Bowyer, along with Ryan Newman, is listed at 25 to 1. Jamie McMurray comes in at 30 to 1.

Kurt Busch is also rated at 30 to 1 and might be an interesting wager for those of you who don't mind throwing a little caution to the wind. Busch is a five time winner at Bristol with six top fives and a 12.9 AFR. However, those numbers came during his tenure with Roush Fenway and Penske Racing. Pull off a sixth Bristol win in his current ride may turn out to be a little more difficult. But the bottom line is: this driver is really good on short tracks and may be worthy of an extremely long shot wager.

Concluding the WSE Bristol rankings, former race winner Jeff Burton comes in at 35 to 1, A J Allmendinger is rated at 40 to 1 while Juan Pablo Montoya closes the list at 45 to 1. If you do not see the name of your favorite driver on the WSE list then he is automatically rated under "all others" at 10 to 1 odds.

Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races.

But if you're going to do it anyway, and many of you will, then you're going to need the quality professionals from the World Sports Exchange.   

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Sunday's Food City 500 is 500 laps/266.5 miles around the Bristol Motor Speedway's concrete covered 0.533 mile oval.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. Ten of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not automatically guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of the top 35 in NASCAR owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to start Sunday's race.

The defending race winner is Kyle Busch from March of last year. Brad Keselowski won the August 2011 race at Bristol. 

The Bristol Motor Speedway opened in 1960. In 1961, NASCAR pioneer Jack Smith won the first Sprint Cup race there with some major help from relief driver Johnny Allen. Since that time there has been 102 Sprint Cup races that has sent 39 different winners to victory lane. Darrell Waltrip tops the all time list with 12 Bristol wins. In the modern era, drivers Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon has five wins each. The legendary Junior Johnson leads the team owner's win list with 16 trips to the Bristol victory lane.

Track position is always important in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race and that especially applies to a short track like Bristol. From the 102 races there, 22 has been won from the pole position.  34 races have been won from the front row, 52 has been won from the top four while 81 races have been won from the top ten starting positions. The last six Bristol races in a row have been won by a margin of victory of less than one second. 

The track qualifying record, 128.709 MPH/14.908 seconds, was set by Ryan Newman back in March of 2003. Drivers Cale Yarborough and Mark Martin share the lead for most poles with nine each.

The Bristol Motor Speedway's surface was converted from asphalt to concrete in 1992. In 2007, the track was reconfigured to provide two distinct racing lines for improved passing. Progressive banking, 24 to 30 degrees, were placed in all four turns. The two straightaways are 650 feet long each and banked four to nine degrees. The concrete racing surface is 43 feet wide. The speedway presently has seating for 160,000 fans which is regarded as being unprecedented for a half mile race track. 

The speedway's pit road configuration is also unique because there are two pit roads: one on the front stretch, with 22 pit stalls, and one on the backstretch with 21 stalls. Those pit stalls are tight and measure 25.5 feet long by 15.5 feet wide. Teams pitting on the front stretch use the traditional approach to the pits by entering on turn four and exiting adjacent to turn one. Teams pitting on the backstretch will have to enter from turn two and then drive all the way around through the front stretch pit road to re-enter the track. Sometimes the Bristol pit road can get a little precarious and that's why the pit road speed is only 30 MPH.

The Food City 500 will be broadcast live by the Fox Network with the pre race showing beginning at 1230 pm eastern time. The race re-air will be on Wednesday, March 21st, on SPEED beginning at 12 pm et. Live radio coverage will be on PRN, Performance Radio Network, and Sirius XM Satellite's NASCAR Channel 90. 

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