Bristol not short for excitement

March 19, 2002 8:43 AM
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Race six of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season at Bristol is the first of six short track races on the season. For many, this Tennessee track produces the most exciting races of the season.

All the elements that have made stock car racing great are present at Bristol such as speed, bumper cars, tempers, and overall maintaining the roots of the sport.

There is no half-mile track in the world that allows for such speed to be obtained and that is due to the 36 degree banking in the turns minimizing the use of brakes. The track is still a half-miler and regardless of how fast each of the 43 drivers can go, they are still going to get in each other’s way.

It would be newsworthy if some kind of altercation between any pair of drivers didn’t happen at Bristol, but they never disappoint. It’s down-home racing in old school fashion.

Coming into this race with the points lead and winner in two of the last three races is Sterling Marlin. The Columbia, Tenn., native is a 6-1 selection at Bristol, where he has yet to win a Winston Cup race.

Past history with Marlin appears to be something that can be thrown out the window, considering his fine start this year. ­­After 19 seasons in NASCAR, Marlin is having the best run of his career.

The best thing that could have ever happened for him was car owner Chip Ganassi taking over the Felix Sabates operation last season.

Ganassi is famed for his four consecutive CART FedEx series championships, but many thought getting involved in stock car racing would set him up for failure and frustration because of the series being so competitive.

So far, Marlin and Ganassi have frustrated every team on the circuit with their consistency and dominance. The roll Marlin is on should carry over with a good performance this week. In the four of his last five Bristol races, Marlin has finished in the Top 10.

The gossip and rumors are out surrounding the divorce of NASCAR’s glamour couple, Jeff and Brooke Gordon. The last time there were so many varied opinions circulating from fans about a pending divorce, it was when Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson split. Regardless of the opinions and rumors, Gordon will still be the same tough driver on the track.

Chances are that there may even be a feeling of relief and freedom by having this marital split finally become public. This obviously had to be lingering for some time and could possibly be a reason why Gordon has struggled thus far. The sports books don’t seem to care much about his personal life because he again has been installed the favorite at 4-1.

It seems his past performance at Bristol far outweighs whatever else is going on. In 18 career starts, he has four wins with five other Top 5 finishes including a fourth and third place last season. Other than his rookie season, this is the second longest drought of his career to start the season without a win.

In that transition year of 2000, he won in the ninth race at Talladega. The due theory is making a strong case. His team is too good not win.

 

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:

1)    #29   Kevin Harvick   (12-1)
2)    #24   Jeff Gordon   (4-1)
3)    #2   Rusty Wallace   (9-2)
4)    #20   Tony Stewart   (5-1)
5)    #40   Sterling Marlin   (6-1)

 

Bristol’s all-time money winner and ­­active win leader is Rusty Wallace (9-2). He’s had nine wins over his career and has mastered the high banks with amazing consistency. Last season, he finished seventh and fifth, but two years ago, he swept the season by winning the spring and fall races.

Wallace’s teammate, Ryan Newman (18-1), has been getting all the attention of late. Many have sort of forgot about Wallace because he hasn’t wowed anyone.

Wallace’s team went through several internal changes during the off-season and have already had three provisionals to start the season.

Two years ago, Wallace almost set a NASCAR record by winning 10 pole positions. Whatever slump the team is in right now should be cured at Bristol. Expect a good performance this week.

A nice longshot to look at this week is Kevin Harvick (12-1). We know the GM Goodwrench team can set up a great car at Bristol since they helped the late Dale Earnhardt win nine times. We also know they helped Harvick last year lead the most laps in this race along with a second place finish in the fall.

If it weren’t for a bad tire, Harvick might have won instead of Elliott Sadler (45-1), who evidently got the good tires. Harvick grew up driving the short tracks in Bakersfield and has looked sharp in all of his races at Bristol that includes two Busch series wins.

Tony Stewart (5-1) was involved in an accident last week at Darlington severe enough that he was flown to a nearby hospital by helicopter. Reports indicate that he won’t miss this week’s race and the injuries involve his lower back.

Stewart is sure to start the race because he’s in the midst of a championship hunt, but how many laps he’ll actually drive is not known. The demanding hard turns of Bristol will not be good for any ailing back. It’s a strong possibility that he could drive until the first pit stop and a substitute driver would take over.

Stewart would get credit for all the points in that scenario. For betting purposes, if that scenario did occur the bet would be on the driver of official record which would be Stewart.

WINSTON CUP POINTS ODDS

Driver Now
S. Marlin   5-2
J. Gordon   3-1
T. Stewart   4-1
J. Burton   7-1
R. Wallace   8-1
D. Jarrett   10-1
R. Newman   10-1
M. Martin   12-1
M. Kenseth   12-1
K. Harvick   15-1