NASCAR goes short track racing this weekend with a return to Bristol Motor Speedway. The high-banked, Tennessee track hosts the Cup Series Sunday afternoon after its original spring date was scrubbed as one of the races postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The .533-mile track will see drivers turning some of the quickest laps of the season taking just over 14 seconds to get around the concrete racing surface. As has been the case in recent years, NASCAR officials will again work in conjunction with track management in the application of a traction compound in hopes of creating more lane options for drivers and in turn better competition. The process has definitely produced the intended results of late with more side-by-side racing and passing opportunities for drivers.
Starting on the front row has proven to be a harbinger for success at Bristol over the course of the 118 races run there beginning in 1961. Taking the green flag near the front of the field will be an even more important element Sunday because as has been the case since NASCAR’s streamlined event return to action there will no practice of qualifying.
Here’s a look at some of the top contenders in the Food City 500:
If it seems like Busch has been in the eye of the storm in pretty much every race run since NASCAR got back on track you’re right. The mercurial driver has already created a number of headlines but winning a Cup race is not yet one of them.Busch has won three of the last five Bristol Cup races and has led 822 laps in the previous ten races at the track, which is nearly 300 more than the next active driver on the list in Joey Logano.
The sport’s Most Popular Driver has a hot hand and rides into Bristol after winning last Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. If not for a late race pit strategy decision to give up the lead in the late going, Elliott might have a two-race Cup winning streak. He certainly has momentum and has knocked down a pair of top-five finishes in his last three Bristol starts.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is the most recent Bristol winner taking last summer’s annual night race. Hamlin has two straight top-five performances at Bristol and an average finish of 9.9. over the last ten races at the track, which is second best in the series. Hamlin is still without his crew chief Chris Gabehart who is service a four-race suspension for the penalty incurred after weight fell off the No. 11 car prior to the Coca-Cola 600 start. However that did not prove to be a challenge Thursday night in Charlotte where despite not having his top man calling the shots, Hamlin turned in a second place finish.
His odds keep getting shorter as Johnson becomes much more competitive as the season wears on. His 8.9 mark is the best Bristol average finish over the last ten races there and 2017 win is the primary factor in that number. That also happens to be the last year Johnson won a Cup race but the seven-time champion definitely shows signs of honing in on another trip to Victory Lane.