Bristol track fits right for Larson
August 15, 2017 3:07 AM
by Micah Roberts
Just three more races remain until NASCAR’s Playoffs begin Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway. The current playoff bracket is crowded with 13 drivers qualified due to winning a race and another three trying to make it on points.
Chase Elliott is currently sitting safe in 14th position, followed by Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. Sitting 31-points out, and out of the playoffs, is Clint Bowyer in 17th-place.
So what we’re going to see Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked, half-mile layout is a bunch of guys with differing strategies. For Kenseth, he’d love to win for the fifth time in his career at Bristol, but making the playoffs is the most important thing right now. A win does get him in, but so do points, and he hasn’t won all season. So it appears easier to manage his points situation than hope for a win despite his car running better lately than he has all season.
Bowyer might be trying the same thing because he’s been consistent lately as well, but it’s apparent his car truly isn’t fast enough to win races despite a few runner-ups. He can point race right now because he’s not too far behind. The desperate drivers are in an entirely different category. They have to win or they won’t be eligible for the playoffs.
Joey Logano is in desperation mode and has to win. Erik Jones ran well enough to win last week at Michigan and he needs a victory to get in. So do Daniel Suarez, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The thing I like to do with the second Bristol race is not only review what happened in the first event back in April, but also review what happened in the June 4 matchup at Dover International Speedway, which is a half-mile longer but is concrete and high banked. It’s a bigger Bristol – faster, but the balancing of the car is set-up similar.
The most dominant car between both of those races this year was last week’s winner Kyle Larson. He led a race-high 202 laps at Bristol and finished sixth. At Dover, he led a race-high 241 laps and finished second. It appears the only tracks Larson can win on over his career are the 2-mile variety. He’s taken three straight at Michigan and won at Fontana earlier this season. Four straight on just 2-mile tracks? The oddest part is with all that horsepower he hasn’t won at the plentiful 1.5-mile tracks yet.
Anyway, back to the correlation between Bristol and Dover. Jimmie Johnson won both of those races. He’s the best all-time at Dover with 11 wins, but his Bristol win was just the second of his career there. However, he’s been the best there in the past six races with a 6.8 average finish. Saturday’s race will be the third straight at Bristol that they’ll be applying a TrackBite substance on the surface that gives more grip to the lower groove. The drivers all like it, and I think I do as a viewer, too.
The Busch brothers are the active Bristol leaders with five wins each. The elder Busch, Kurt, got his five wins in bunches early in his career. Then Kyle got four of his wins within five races between 2009 and 2011. But neither have done much of anything in their past 12 starts there, which is kind of an oddity.
A long shot to watch for this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Even with crummy cars, he’s still managed a 10.4 average finish in nine starts, which include two runner-ups. Now, the Roush Fenway program is coming along nicely. He’s got two wins in plate races this season.
This should be a track both Logano and Junior fare well at. Junior’s only win came in 2004 and Logano won in 2014 and 2015. Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski also has two wins on his resume.
I’m expecting Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to lead the most laps again – Truex led the second most laps between Dover and Bristol – and then for something wild to happen in the last few laps. Let’s call it an overtime race as well.