Dustin Off the Next Race: Sharpie 500 at Bristol

Dustin ParksAnalyst IAugust 21, 2009

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 23:  A genreal view during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2008 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It's time for the Sprint Cup Series to go short-track racing once again. Saturday, the lights of Bristol Motor Speedway will be shining bright as it is time to run the Sharpie 500.

This has always been one of the more popular stops of the year, and Saturday will be no different. A sold out crowd of 160,000-plus will be looking down on the 0.533-mile concrete track. And everyone will be expecting to see some fast action, and many short tempers.

Let's first look at the favorites heading into this race. Right away, the major favorite is the winner of the spring race, Kyle Busch.

This kind of race track plays right into the hands of the man they call "Rowdy." Everyone is up on the wheel, fighting to get every position possible.

Last year he lost the race after a late pass by Carl Edwards, so he may feel the track owes him a win. Busch already won the Truck race on Wednesday, so momentum is on his side.

Bristol is one of Busch's top tracks. Since 2006, Busch has two wins, four top-five and six top-ten finishes.

Considering the slump Busch has been on, Busch needs to have a good run to get himself back into points contention.

Ten races ago, Busch was firmly in the Chase, sitting sixth. Since then, he has only two finishes inside the top ten, slipping back to 15th, 70 points out of 12th-place.

If there was ever a track that Busch can mount a comeback, Bristol is the one.

The other driver that I will certainly be watching is Edwards. The winner of the last two night races, a trip to Bristol could not come at a better time.

Edwards has not made it to victory lane this year, a far cry from his season-high nine wins last year. Edwards has been in contention for wins, but has not sealed the deal yet.

This is definitely a track that Edwards can make an impression at. Since 2006, Edwards has four finishes of seventh or better, including the last two night races.

I would not be surprised if the No. 99 were running up front and challenging for a win.

Two drivers have the opportunity to clinch their place in the Chase this weekend, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon has the most wins among active drivers at Bristol with five. However, his last one came back in 2002 when he bumped Rusty Wallace with two laps remaining.

The No. 24 team has had some struggles recently at Bristol because of the resurfacing. However the team has rebounded after two consecutive sub-par performances at this track to post back-to-back top-five finishes.

Gordon nearly won the race last week on fuel mileage, but don't expect this race to come down to who has the most fuel. Watch the No. 24 team, they could pounce on opportunity in an instant.

As for Johnson, he is the only driver in the Hendrick stable that has yet to post a win at Bristol. He does have three top-five and seven top-ten finishes, but Johnson wants to win at Bristol.

Much like 2008, Johnson starts coming on strong right before the Chase. As in 2008, he won the Brickyard 400, which started his climb towards his third-straight title. Johnson had the win last week at Michigan, but his fuel ran dry two laps from the finish, handing the win to Brian Vickers.

Johnson was relegated to a 33rd-place finish, so you know that he is looking for redemption. Chad Knaus is also looking to redeem himself after missing the call last week. If there was any crew chief that would come back after handing a win to another team, it will be Knaus.

Saturday night will be an interesting race for everyone in the garage. For the sold-out crowd of 160,000 people, it is one of the most popular and exciting races to watch.

Everyone get ready, it is time for NASCAR's version of a Saturday night shootout.


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