BRISTOL, Tenn. — Race preview by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda –Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images North America photo —
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the first of two short-tracks in as many weeks for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Right now, there’s no hotter driver in NASCAR than defending Cup champ Kyle Busch. The 30-year-old driver has won the last four events across NASCAR’s top-three series, including back-to-back sweeps at Martinsville and Texas, the first driver to do so in 25 years. Busch sits atop the point standings and is also tied on the provisional Chase Grid with Jimmie Johnson as one of only two double Cup winners so far in 2016.
Don’t overlook the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry again this week at Bristol. Busch may not have competed in last year’s Food City 500, recovering from a scary crash in the 2015 XFINITY season-opener at Daytona, but he has three wins in the annual BMS spring race. He was in winning contention during last August’s night race, until a speeding penalty late put the Las Vegas native towards the back and stalled his efforts.
Going into Bristol, Busch appears to be the hands-down favorite, but Joe Gibbs Racing is strong as a whole in the Tennessee mountains.
Current Gibbs drivers hold the last two spring event wins at Bristol: Carl Edwards in 2014 and Matt Kenseth last year. Edwards’ win was one of his final victories at Roush-Fenway Racing in 2014 before joining the Gibbs clan the next season, but look no further than Kenseth to potentially dethrone Rowdy. Although he’s gotten off to a rocky start in 2016. Kenseth broke a 51-race winless streak in last year’s Food City 500 en route to five wins in 2015.
Another team to keep an eye on is Team Penske. Joey Logano has won the last two Bristol night Races and Brad Keselowski also has Cup two wins in Thunder Valley. An early accident last April took out both drivers and ended any chance at another victory on the Bristol high banks, however.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another Ford driver to watch as well. He has back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the last two Bristol spring races.
Looking for a darkhrose this weekend? That could come from the Chip Ganassi Racing stable with Kyle Larson, who led 90 laps last year at Bristol trying to pit off-sequence with the leaders. He easily has a shot to crack into victory lane for the first time in his Cup career. The bright spot so far in Larson’s 2016 season came at another short track in Martinsville, after a late-race pit call gave the 23-year-old driver a third-place showing to advance his position in points.
Ryan Blaney is a two-time winner at Bristol, one victory in each the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. He can join Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the only drivers to win events in all of NASCAR’s top-three series there. It will also be 15 years to the weekend when first-time winner Elliott Sadler broke an eight-year winless streak for the Wood Brothers at Bristol if he could get the job done.
Last year’s Bristol spring race produced excitement, which may have in turn upset Mother Nature in the process. The last two Bristol spring races have ended at night after lengthy rain delays forced the race to finish under the lights at BMS.
This weekend can serve as a wild card race, and has been ever since Bruton Smith ripped out the progressive banking in 2012 to make it a one-lane racetrack to mimic something similar to pre-2007 Bristol racing. Many drivers run the high side to keep up their momentum and basically make it the preferred lane on every restart.
Bristol is a battle of the best, a race of survival, with the strong ones coming on out top at the .533-mile high-banked track. The last three Cup victories at Bristol belong to the JGR and Penske camps.
Can anyone dethrone these two teams at Bristol, or do the Penske or Gibbs vibes live on once again after the checkered flag falls on Sunday’s Food City 500? Live coverage of the race starts at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio ch. 90).
Food City 500 Weekend Schedule at Bristol (All Times ET):
Friday, April 15
11:00 am-12:25 pm: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series First Practice (FS1)
4:15 pm: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (FS1, PRN)
Saturday, April 16
8:30-9:25 am: First Saturday Sprint Cup Series Practice (FS1)
11:00-11:55 am: Final Sprint Cup Series Practice (FS1)
Sunday, April 17
1:00 pm: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is a Northeast Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 23-year-old is a graduate of Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
Email Kyle at: [email protected]
Follow on Twitter: @KyleMagda
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