The first three races of the NASCAR season are in the books, but the racing action will heat up this week when 43 of the most talented drivers travel to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first of two races on the track in 2014.
Over/under on six caution flags during Food City 500?
The event at Bristol puts the track on full display, as its half-mile length, steep banking and stadium-style seating make it one of the most unique battles race fans will experience all season.
With 500 of the fastest laps pushing each driver to his or her limit, there is always potential for chaos on such a short track. In NASCAR, though, rubbing is racing.
Here is all the vital viewing information for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race, the full qualifying results and the drivers to watch in the main event.
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.
When: Sunday, March 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|14||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||-0.198|
|21||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-0.267|
|29||Martin Truex Jr.||-0.306|
Drivers to Watch
Love him or hate him, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team have been the picture of consistency to start the 2014 season.
Not only did Earnhardt win the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career, but he managed to finish in second place at both Phoenix and Las Vegas over the last two weeks. Junior has catapulted to first in the standings.
When asked about possibly tying Richard Petty’s record of starting the season with four top-two finishes, Earnhardt told Jerry Bonkowski of NBC Sports what it meant to him and how he will handle Sunday’s race:
Anytime you do anything that Richard has done and you put yourself in the conversation with him to do with any statistic, it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment because of everything that he has ever done winning as many races as he has and running as many races as he has. He’s been such a fixture in the sport still today.
Yeah, that would be awesome. Just something else we can hang our hat on and we’ve got a shot at it, man. We really run good here. I like coming here. … If we can be in a situation to do that and try to capitalize and get another win or another top three or top two or whatever we need to join Richard in that statistic, we’ll be going for it.
In 27 starts over his career at Bristol, Earnhardt has totaled an average finish of 11.6, the second-best average for an active driver. While he has only won once, he has 13 top-10 finishes at the track over the course of his career.
With the perfect combination of momentum to start the season and a long history of success at the track, those looking for a driver who can steal the show need to look no further than Junior.
This week’s pole-sitter is Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team after they ran a record-setting time of 14.761 seconds. According to Nate Ryan of USA Today, it was just .003 seconds faster than Brad Keselowski’s previous Bristol mark:
Denny Hamlin wins the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway with a record lap at 129.991 mph, beats Brad Keselowski by 0.003 seconds. #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 14, 2014
Hamlin is starting the Food City 500 heading in the right direction.
After finished the Daytona 500 in second place, Hamlin struggled at Phoenix and eventually finished 19th. The No. 11 car’s performance improved in Las Vegas with a 12th-place finish, and now Hamlin wants to be in the winner’s circle.
It is impossible to predict the crashes that can steal away a winning-caliber car’s chances at the checkered flag, but Hamlin was finished in the top 10 in seven of his 15 career races at the track and has averaged a finish of 15.3.
If there was ever a chance for Hamlin to earn his second win at Bristol, it would be during Sunday’s Food City 500.
*Stats via NASCAR.com.