What To Watch for: Food City 500

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IMarch 19, 2009

After a week off, the boys return with back-to-back short-tracks. I love Bristol Motor Speedway. It has all the necessities for a great race.

Bumping and banging? You bet!

Competitive racing? Always!

Crap-shoot on who's going to win? Never a doubt!

It's one of those tracks that anybody can win at, as long as they can keep their nose clean for 500 circuits.

The off week was long and boring, but it's time to get back into the thick of things with a few things to watch for this weekend.


Kurt Busch Looks to Win at Bristol...Again

Busch has five wins at the half-mile bull-ring, so it comes as no surprise that the track is his, "absolute favorite," and one that he looks forward to visiting twice a year.

Busch is off to his best start ever in his nine-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, and is excited about the entire season, as well as the visit to the "World's Fastest Half Mile."

"I'm probably looking forward to this trip back to Bristol as much as any of my career," Busch said. "I could even say that I'm anticipating this Bristol race weekend more than any visit I've ever made to the track."

Busch is coming off a dominant performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks ago. He led 234 of the race's 330 laps, which is 70 more laps than he led the entire season in 2008.

His average running position last week was 1.5 and he ran all 330 laps in the top 15. Busch also earned a perfect driver rating of 150, something he hadn't done since he dominated the field at Pocono in Aug. 2007.

"Coming off the big win two Sundays ago at Atlanta the off weekend only added to the energy and oomph we're bringing [to Bristol]," Busch said. "We have the momentum growing and the excitement building within and around our team."

Busch hasn't won at the bull-ring since March 2006, in what was his fifth start in the Blue Duece.

The No. 2 has made plenty of trips to Victory Lane, as Rusty Wallace piloted it to a win seven times.

"Kurt Busch obviously found what he needed also and go the same feel and accomplished that same thing I was able to do," Wallace said. "It makes me feel good that he was able to pick up on it."

Busch won his first Bristol race in his third trip to the track, and hopes to add win number six this weekend.

"We feel that the timing is right this weekend, to come back in there and add to our success," Busch said.

Denny Hamlin Looks to Fill Big Shoes in Car No. 11 at Bristol

Ned Jarrett drove the No. 11 car to a third-place finish in the first race ever at Bristol back in July, 1961. Since then, the No. 11 car has been synonymous with Victory Lane at the track.

In the last 86 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races since Jarrett's victory, the No. 11 car has won the race 17 times—tops among all other numbers.

Team owner Junior Johnson fielded the No. 11 car for all 17 of those victories.

Among drivers to visit Victory Lane in the No. 11 are: three-time champion Cale Yarborough, who drove for Johnson in the 1970s and made Bristol his personal playground. Yarborough won nine of 16 races between 1973 and 1980.

The two he lost were to Darrell Waltrip.

"The 11 number and Bristol certainly go together," said Waltrip, who leads all drivers with 12 wins at the track. "With all of the wins Junior has been a car owner for, that makes the number special when you go to Bristol."

After Yarborough scaled back following the 1980 season, Waltrip took over the No. 11.

"When I got out of the 88 and into the 11, I had my credentials and I was prepared, at the top of my game, and then they gave me that race car to drive...I couldn't lose," Waltrip said.


Jack Roush Looks To Extend Record for Consecutive Years with Bristol Win

As noted above, Johnson has won more races at Bristol as an owner than any other car owner at any single track in the history of NASCAR.

He has 21 Bistol wins, including nine with Yarborough and seven with Waltrip.

Even more impressive is the fact that Johnson had seven season sweeps and a streak of eight straight wins from 1980-1984.

While impressive, Johnson never matched team owner Jack Roush's current record-streak of seven straight seasons with a Bristol victory.

Wins came from Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards, with one of the three winning each year since 2002, including a sweep of the track by Busch in 2003.

"I credit our success to three things," Roush said. "The driver's judgment and natural ability to negotiate the tracks unique challenges, terrific engineering support for our chassis configuration, engine combinations, and race day set ups from the Ford Motor Co., and timely and able crew chief strategies regarding stopping for four tires or two tires, or no tires, or gas only, etc.

"I can only hope that the magic from our combination of these three contributing factors continues to give us the same results going forward."

Loop Data Points to Kenseth for Bristol Dominance

It's been a tale of two seasons for Kenseth, who began the season winning the first two events, only to have less than stellar performances the next two weeks.

Bristol, however, is a track where Kenseth can turn his season back around. He has two wins at the track and has finished in the top-10 each of the last two races.

Since loop data was created in 2005, Kenseth has a series-best driver rating of 105.5, a second-best average running position of 8.4, a second-most fastest laps run of 223, and a series-best laps in the top 15 percentage of 88.1.


Chase Contenders Represented Widely Across Garage

It may be early, but it's exciting to see some new faces—and teams—in the top 12 in points. The 12 drivers represent nine different teams.

Among those "non-traditional" teams in the top 12 are: Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) and David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota).

Roush Fenway has three teams (Carl Edwards, fourth; Matt Kenseth, fifth; and Greg Biffle, 10th), and Richard Childress Racing has two (Clint Bowyer, second and Kevin Harvick, eighth).

The other organizations represented are: Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, first); Penske Racing (Kurt Busch, third); Stewart-Haas Racing (Tony Stewart, sixth); Joe Gibbs Racing (Kyle Busch, seventh) and Richard Petty Motorsports (Kasey Kahne, ninth).

In addition, all four of the manufactures are currently represented by atleast two teams.


Fast Facts

The Race: Food City 500

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile concrete oval)

The Date: Sunday, Mar. 22

The Time: 2 PM ET

Race Distance: 500 laps/266.50 miles

TV: FOX , 1:30 PM ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite.

2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson (via points; qualifying was rained out)

2008 Winner: Jeff Burton

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 12-1:30 PM; Qualifying, 3:40 PM

Saturday –Practice, 11-11:45 AM, 12:20-1:20PM

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                  Points
 1  Jeff Gordon          634
 2  Clint Bowyer        591
 3  Kurt Busch          588
 4  Carl Edwards       547
 5  Matt Kenseth       546
 6  Tony Stewart       521
 7  Kyle Busch          514
 8  Kevin Harvick       511
 9  Kasey Kahne       484
10 Greg Biffle            480
11 Brian Vickers       477
12 David Reutimann  475


Up Next: Martinsville Speedway

The beating and banging continue next Sunday when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Martinsville, VA for the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Hamlin, from Chesterfield, VA led 88 laps in last year’s event en route to winning for the first time in his home state. Gordon was the pole sitter and finished second.

The race will air on FOX starting at 1:30 PM ET. The green flag will drop at approximately 2 PM.


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