High or low, which way will be the way to go?
When Bristol was redesigned last summer and the progressive banking was removed to narrow the racing surface, it was intended to force drivers to run the bottom groove. All of this in turn would create the contact that has become synonymous with racing on the half-oval and what track officials felt was the reason for sagging attendance.
However, when the August Bristol race rolled around, the desired changes never took effect, as drivers still favored the middle and upper portions of the track where more grip was being afforded.
Whether this will again be the case Sunday remains to be seen, but if practice is an indicator, it appears more drivers will try to run the lower groove than last year.
And if the lower groove does prove to be the fast way around, you should see a return of the bump-n-run. This patented move where a driver will use their front bumper to shove the car in front of them out of the groove and then drive by them has been missing as of late from Bristol but has the potential to return in spades Sunday afternoon.
Danica looking to bounce back
After a rough two weeks where she finished no better than 33rd, the shine coming is off Danica Patrick's season-opening eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500, where she became the first woman to lead a lap at that race.
While expecting her to score a top 10 may be a bit too much, replicating her performance from the August Bristol Cup race is more reasonable. It was on that night where Patrick ran solidly on the lead lap, avoided trouble and was in line for a top 20 finish all before Regan Smith wrecked her with 67 laps to go.
Patrick's biggest challenge Sunday will be overcoming her 41st-starting position. To do this she will need to avoid going a lap down early and then from there, use track position to her advantage by getting off of sequence from the leaders, and hope the cautions fall her way.
All this is doable, but the odds are still in favor of Patrick having another long afternoon for the third straight week.
Keep an eye on the weather
With 43 cars clumped together around a half-mile track, races at Bristol are already hairy affairs with trouble lurking on every lap. With rain in the forecast, it's possible the Food City 500 becomes a race to halfway. If the clouds become dark and rain becomes inevitable, teams will gamble on pit strategy while drivers will become more aggressive as they jockey for position.
- With Kyle Busch the overwhelming favorite, it is worth mentioning that the pole-sitter has gone on to win just once in the last seven years. And out of the 104 Cup races at Bristol, 22 times the driver who started first ended the day in the same position.
- The last Sprint Cup race to be contested on St. Patrick's Day was 2002 at Darlington and won by Sterling Marlin.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted the 20th-fastest speed in qualifying, but an engine change on Friday necessitates that the rookie driver will move to the rear of the field.
- Sunday will mark the 200th career start for David Reutimann, who will roll off the grid 25th.
1. Kyle Busch
After winning Saturday's Nationwide Series race can Kyle Busch complete the weekend sweep? It sure looks that way, considering he was the fastest in qualifying and the fastest in both rounds of Saturday practice.
2. Denny Hamlin
While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate as been atop the speed chart, Hamlin has been just a tick behind, clocking in the third-fastest time in final practice. And as evident by his win here in August, Hamlin obviously has Bristol's new design figured out.
3. Brad Keselowski
The winner of two of the last three Bristol races has been quick throughout the weekend. And in a race that could likely come down to track position and strategy, don't bet against Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe who play those games better than anyone else.
Maybe he's not much of a sleeper considering he did lead 125 laps in this race last year and was the only driver to finish both Bristol races in the top five. But with this being Brian Vickers' first Cup start of the season we'll go ahead and grant him sleeper status.