Harvick intends to write new chapter at storied Bristol

August 21, 2001 7:06 AM
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Each year several newspapers and organizations poll NASCAR fans across the country on a variety of topics. Year after year, the overwhelming choice for favorite track and race is Bristol in the fall. Every year, the drama captured throughout the night race at Bristol writes a new chapter in NASCAR history.

The uniqueness of Bristol sets it apart from any track in the world. It is the fastest half-mile track on the circuit. Drivers are able to rip around the tiny track with minimal braking on the 36-degree high banking. As with any short track, tempers flare. At Bristol, with those high speeds in such tight confines, things really get heated and bent. Then, when the lights go on, the heat gets escalated to epic proportions. The feudin’ and hollerin’ is why so many of the night races at Bristol are remembered and revered by so many fans. This Saturday night will be no different.

The last time we visited Bristol the longest shot in Las Vegas NASCAR wagering history won the race. Elliott Sadler, at 125-1, won his first career race that day. For a lucky few bettors who had Sadler at 125-1, it was a career day for them as well.

The way Sadler won back in March was by gaining track position. He did so by not changing his tires for the last 127 laps. In the past, that would have been a tragic mistake, but at the start of the season Goodyear unveiled a new and improved tire. Sadler himself was even caught off-guard by the durability of the tire.

“What I was thinking was, ”˜I’ll let the guys (on fresher tires) pass me as they get to me,’” Sadler said. “We’ll finish seventh or eighth. ...But the more we ran I was like, ”˜Man, they’re not running all over the top of me. This thing’s not too bad.’ ”

Is there a possibility of history repeating itself again? Probably not. Sadler is once again 125-1. The odds are based simply on the fact he hasn’t done anything since then and the win was somewhat of a fluke. Is there a possibility that maybe another long shot could win? Other than the freaky tire incident this season, history says no. The best of the best have been consistently good at Bristol. It is uncommon for an also ran to win at Bristol. The trend for the last 30 years has been that champions win at Bristol. In the last 20 races, covering 10 years, only one non-Winston Cup Champion has won at Bristol and that was Mark Martin who won two times (’93 & ’98). If you throw out 1990 when Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan won, you have to go all the back to 1971 when Charlie Glotzbach won to find a year that a non-Champion won at Bristol.

To narrow it even further, the last Winston Cup champion failing to win at Bristol was Bobby Isaac who captured the season title in 1970. This doesn’t necessarily mean history will repeat itself, but it is a magnificent trend that has held true. More importantly in reading deeper into the trend is what it says about the drivers winning. It takes someone who fully understands racing to win at Bristol, enough so that they know how to win championships.

Jeff Gordon (3-1) is this week’s favorite, followed closely by Rusty Wallace (7-2). Gordon hasn’t won at Bristol since ’98. He had won four fall races in a row at that point. Wallace has won three of the last five. Wallace has made a name for himself on the short tracks and there is little doubt that no one knows more about what lines to take at Bristol than Wallace. That is why Wallace also finds himself a prohibitive 5-6 favorite to win the pole.

The driver to take notice of this week is Kevin Harvick (8-1). Harvick grew up racing on the short track of Mesa Marin in Bakersfield and has the necessary combination of attitude and horses under the hood to win at Bristol. He showed his cockiness at Sears Point when he shadowed Robby Gordon because Gordon childishly refused to allow Harvick to get back on the same lap. Harvick raced him hard for 20 laps allowing Tony Stewart to catch up and pass Gordon for the win. On a weekly basis we also see his coolness and maturity. He’s won two times already this season and currently sits 10th in the standings, amazing considering he missed the Daytona 500.

In the spring race at Bristol, Harvick qualified third and led the most laps. He had the best set-up and proved it all day long until he got one of the bad Goodyear tires. With 70 laps to go, Harvick was leading, just in front of Sadler, and blew a tire. It was a good learning experience for the “rookie”. He competed with the best and drove like he had been there several times before. In his only other prior experience, a 2000 Busch series race, Harvick easily won.

Other young drivers to watch who have shown an amazing adaptation to this tough track are Tony Stewart (6-1) and Steve Park(18-1).

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1)#29 Kevin Harvick (8-1)
2)#2 Rusty Wallace (7-2)
3)#24 Jeff Gordon (3-1)
4)#20 Tony Stewart (6-1)
5)#1 Steve Park (18-1)