Bristol promises mile of mayhem

Apr 18, 2017 3:02 AM

After having Easter weekend off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets back to work this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked, half-mile layout where tempers are sure to flare among the drivers. It always happens at Bristol, which is why it’s always one of the more anticipated races twice a season.

We’ve had seven races on the season, but none we can use that applies very similar to Bristol. Martinsville is a half-mile also and we saw Brad Keselowski win there three weeks ago, making him the season leader with two wins. But the big difference with Bristol is the high-banking making to set-up requirements completely different from Martinsville.

Dover is the track I compare the most with Bristol even though it’s a one-mile layout, but the thing that correlates well between the two is the high-banking and concrete surface. So when handicapping this week’s race, I don’t have a lot to go off of outside of current form and past history at Bristol. Because of the banking, I’ll mix in just a dash of what happened at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas.

As for past history, the active leaders in wins are Las Vegas’ own Busch brothers with five wins each. It’s been a while since Kurt Busch won, though. While driving for Jack Roush, he gobbled up wins in bunches to start his career, but hasn’t won there since 2006. Overall, he’s led 1,062 laps and has 16 top-10s in 32 starts. While driving for Chevrolet and Dodge, he never won, but he’s in a Ford again like he was with all his previous success.

Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with 1,959 laps led, but he hasn’t been his usual self there in the past three seasons. Last season he was 38th and 39th in the two races. Since a second-place finish in the spring of 2013 he’s gone six straight starts there without a top-5.

However, his current form makes him someone to consider this week. After finishing 16th or worse in his first three starts, he’s finished third at Phoenix, eighth at Fontana, second at Martinsville and 15th at Texas. At Martinsville he led a race-high 274 laps.

One of the best drivers over the past three Bristol races has been Kevin Harvick, who won the fall race last season, finished seventh in the spring and was runner-up in the fall of 2015. He’s a two-time winner at Bristol and comes off his first top-5 finish of the season with fourth-place at Texas.

Point-leader Kyle Larson has been fast everywhere this season with four runner-ups and a win in seven starts. However, his worst finish – 17th – was at Martinsville where he wasn’t able to flex all his engine’s muscles in tight quarters with cars slamming at all angles against him. Since coming into the series he’s been at his best on tracks with lots of room, most of which are the cookie cutter and two-mile layouts.

The past two seasons of races at Bristol have seen Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have the best average finish at 9th place. However, neither won during that span and both have just one victory there over their careers.

Matt Kenseth is a four-time winner, the last coming in the spring of 2015. He’s currently sitting 22nd in points with just one top-5 this season (third at Atlanta). However, his past three starts have seen him finish 42nd, 36th and 37th. Ouch!

The best long shots this week look to be Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, especially Bowyer. After being in a car the past few seasons that had no chance of winning, he’s finally showing his true skills in a good car taking over for the retired Tony Stewart. Neither Bowyer or Newman have a win at Bristol, but I’m looking for both to be competitive and good bets in driver matchups.

And of course, if we’re talking good current form we have to consider Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. These guys are good every week no matter what type of track they’re at. Keselowski won at Bristol in back-to-back races in 2011-12 and was runner-up in 2014. Logano finished 10th in both races last season, but won in the fall of 2014 and 2015.

One other notable mention in the long shot category is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who has three top-5 finishes in eight career starts. It’s his best statistical track (10.6 avg. finish) and his Roush-Fenway Ford has been better this season than any of his past four seasons since being in the Cup series.