Through three races in the NASCAR season, there have been a handful of drivers dominating the field. But with the season transferring from super speedways and 1.5-mile tracks to the short-track atmosphere of Bristol, it could be time for other drivers to surge to the top.
Two of those drivers at the top of the list are clearly Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. They also just so happen to represent the top two manufacturers in Chevrolet and Ford along with the top two teams in Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske, respectively.
As for the best of the rest, those aforementioned teams include the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon on Hendrick and Joey Logano on Penske—all three round out the top five in points standings.
While some NASCAR fans are likely ready to see another team take one of the top spots in Bristol, it's probably not going to come to fruition. Hendrick has a total of 10 wins at the track, and Keselowski has won two of the last five races in Tennessee.
With the Food City 500 fast approaching and qualifying coming up at the end of the week, here is a look at the latest news on teams and some of the top drivers for the race.
What: Food City 500
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN.
When: 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
NASCAR Team News
Team Penske Rising
Hendrick typically controls the headlines when it comes to team rankings, but the performances that the two-car team of Penske has put together can't be overlooked.
With both Keselowski and Logano in the top five, the team has gotten off to a hot start and is challenging the Hendrick drivers more than any other group in Sprint Cup. Team owner Roger Penske spoke about the bullish start for his team, per Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com:
The combination of Joey and Brad is super. When you look at their ages (Keselowski is 30, Logano 23) ... they're talking every day. Last night they were going over the changes on their cars. But even more important, I think (crew chiefs) Todd Gordon and Paul (Wolfe) have really bonded together.
After Keselowski swept the weekend with both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Las Vegas, he turns his sights to Bristol, a track where he has a great history.
As for Logano, he will return to the site and same race where he had one of his most heated exchanges last season. After Denny Hamlin put him in the wall last March, he met the No. 11 driver after the race for a few words.
Both have their sights set on continuing the recent string of success this season and could very well keep Team Penske near the top of the team rankings. And with Keselowski only trailing Earnhardt Jr. by one point, he could overtake the popular driver to sit alone at No. 1 in the standings.
One of the perceived powers in the preseason, Stewart-Haas Racing has been anything but through the first three races.
Danica Patrick has wrecked twice and sits at No. 33 in the points standings. Kurt Busch has been slightly better, but is 28th. As for Tony Stewart, a team owner, and Kevin Harvick, another newby, the results have been mixed with the two coming in at 27th and 14th in the rankings, respectively.
Then there was Las Vegas, where not a single driver finished inside the top 20, per SHR's official Twitter account:
The Kobalt 400 @LVMotorSpeedway is over. Patrick P21. Kurt Busch P26. Stewart P33. Harvick P41. Keselowski wins over Dale Jr.— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) March 9, 2014
Harvick has a win at Phoenix and looked like the top contender in Las Vegas, he but fell off the pace after suffering a broken left front wheel hub. Outside of his win, though, the team doesn't have another top-10 finish through the first three races.
The hope this weekend is that the team can turn things around in Tennessee. Busch has five victories overall at Bristol, while Harvick and Stewart have one apiece. With that record at the track, SHR could certainly use a strong race from any or all of that trio.
Top Drivers at Bristol
One of the hottest drivers on the circuit also just so happens to be one of the best in recent memory at Bristol.
While Keselowski hasn't won in the last three runnings at the track, he has two wins and another top-five finish in his career there. Apart from the fact that he would continue putting together a strong season, the 30-year-old would also have a spot in history, as Matt Willis of ESPN notes:
With an average finish of 13.2 and a driver rating of 94.9, which rank sixth- and fourth-best among drivers, according to nascarmedia.com (subscription required), Keselowski is yet again one of the top contenders to watch when the Sprint Cup tour turns to Bristol.
And with his recent momentum coming off of three top-five finishes and a win at Las Vegas, Keselowski has a chance to take the top spot in the standings away from Junior with a good run.
The forgotten driver on Hendrick's team with Gordon, Johnson and Junior all putting together spectacular years thus far, Kasey Kahne has a shot to have yet another strong showing at Bristol.
In his last two races at the track, Kahne has a first- and second-place finish. In fact, he has led a total of 151 laps in his last three showings in Bristol and hasn't finished outside the top 10 in any of those races.
Kahne spoke about his recent success, his outlook for the race and even the new qualifying rules at the short track in a video from Hendrick:
With all of his teammates stealing the headlines thus far, and rightfully so, Kahne's performances at the short track proves why he not only fits in well with the team but also is a useful part of their excellence in the Sprint Cup series.
He could accomplish both his first win of the season and also solidify a spot in the Chase field at Bristol as the fourth different winner on the season. But with a strong field, including both Earnhardt and Keselowski, Kahne will have to contend with both the tough track and the strong field behind him.
Neither Joe Gibbs Racing nor SHR have gotten off to as resounding of a start as some of the other teams in the field, but Kyle and Kurt Busch could help turn the corner with a win at Bristol.
Not only are both brothers successful at the track, but they have a combined 10 wins between the two of them. Kyle has the edge in top fives with eight, but Kurt has more top 10s with 14. On a track that's been difficult to tame for some of the top drivers, the Busch brothers make it look easy.
Here's a look at the numbers for the two brothers heading into Bristol:
|Driver||Wins||Top 5||Top 10||Avg. Running||Avg. Finish|
Both drivers are members of teams that could really use a win at this point in the season, and either could accomplish the feat for their respective group.
But with the No. 18 machine having the most recent success and better average finish of the two, Kyle Busch will be the one coming out on top between the brothers.