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Several NASCAR drivers got their first look at the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test, and what they discovered is exactly what track owner Bruton Smith hoped would happen.
Smith ordered his engineers to grind down the top lane of the track, and the drivers found it to be so slippery that Bristol has essentially been reduced from a three-groove track to two.
"Well, you've definitely lost the top groove," said Tony Stewart, who was the only driver to try and run the high line at the test. "Guys who run up there aren't going to be able to do that because it's pretty slick up there. There's going to be less room to race, that's for sure."
And less room to race means increased likelihood for the beating and banging that Bristol was known for. Many fans were upset after the March Bristol race produced lots of passing but few cautions.
Taking away one-third of the racing room should make for "a lot closer racing than we've had here in the past," Clint Bowyer said.
"The closer we have to race just means something's going to happen," Bowyer said. "Is it going to make fans happy? Well, narrowing up the track means less room to get around, so there's no question there's going to be closer action."
Bristol left the bottom two-thirds of the track untouched, but had grinders take off several inches of the banking up near the wall. Now it's useless for drivers to run that high, because they'd only lose time and possibly lose control of their cars as well.
"Tony experimented and tried out that top groove, and I know he won't be trying that again," Jeff Burton said.
So will fans be happier now that there's the potential for more action at a track once known for tempers and wrecks? It depends what they want, Burton said.
"If people liked the older track more than the new, they are going to like this," he said. "This takes the top groove out and brings it back toward the old track. Taking the groove out moves the track closer to what it used to be.
"... This track always has been different. Fans always want to see action here. That is why pressure is always put on this track."
Said Bowyer: "This place has always been – and will always be – far and away the best race we have. You wanna see a great race in the best atmosphere we have? Just be here in August."
There was never a thought in Bruton Smith's mind to leave Bristol Motor Speedway untouched.
After last month's Food City 500, in which the stands were half-full at best, the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman had no choice. He had to do something, even if not everyone agreed.
And though many fans, drivers and observers won't like Smith's ultimate decision, Bristol announced Wednesday it will grind down the top lane of the track and therefore take away the advantage of progressive banking.
Where there were three racing lanes before, drivers will only have two viable options come the night race in August. The idea, said track general manager Jerry Caldwell, is to "tighten these guys up, bring 'em back together (so they're) not going to get away from each other very quickly."
If it works, it will restore some of the racing Bristol became famous for while also still allowing for multiple racing grooves; the best of both worlds, Caldwell said.
Will it please everyone? Absolutely not.
Smith said none of the drivers he spoke to were in favor of him changing the track. And after an initial onslaught of fans who demanded something be done, the final numbers were only 40 percent in favor of making the change.
But here's the thing: What's good for the drivers isn't always good for the fans. A wide track with multiple racing grooves might sound like an attractive proposition at a 1.5-mile track, but not at Bristol.
Why? Because the short track at Bristol was famous for fender-rubbing and tempers – not side-by-side racing. People filled the 158,000-seat track year after year because there was a high probability of seeing some drama.
When that disappeared after the track's reconfiguration, attendance began to dwindle. Along with the economy, Bristol was no longer a must-see race, so people saved their money for something else.
Smith is a businessman, and he plans to change that. He studied several options with SMI's engineers, and ultimately he decided reducing the degree of banking in the upper groove was his best choice.
Smith didn't do anything crazy like move the walls in six feet, re-pave the track with asphalt or completely start over. But what he did do is a modification that has a chance to tighten up the racing for a relatively small cost – at least compared to a complete redesign.
Ultimately, Smith needs to fill his Colosseum of Speed. To do so, he had to appease those who felt the track was too racy – as bizarre as that sounds – and who craved the sight of twisted sheet metal and sparks flying under the lights.
Honestly, it has a chance to work. Even if the race has the same number of cautions as the March event did – the fewest since 1996 – so much about racing is perception.
If fans get the idea that attending Bristol is a can't-miss, must-see race, they'll show up. Maybe taking away one racing lane won't be a dramatic change, but it still could produce more drama.
And like it or not, that's the reality of what many fans want to watch.
By listening to the wishes of 40 percent of the fans and zero percent of the drivers, Smith's Bristol move is a decision which probably satisfies no one.
But if he can get half of the unhappy 40 percent to show up at the track while retaining the 60 percent who didn't think there was anything wrong with Bristol in the first place, the attendance numbers should go up enough to satisfy everyone.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is set to reveal planned changes to Bristol Motor Speedway today in an 11 a.m. ET news conference at the track.
Smith vowed to alter the track surface following a dud of a race last month in which the once-packed grandstands were only half full. After gathering fan input, the head of SMI – which owns tracks such as Texas, Atlanta and Sonoma in addition to Bristol – decided changes were necessary.
Just what those changes will be is anyone's guess. Reports Smith was planning to spend $1 million on the project means the entire track surface won't be reconfigured prior to August's Bristol night race – that would cost more than $1 million – but there are other options Smith may have up his sleeve.
We'll be live at the news conference later this morning, so make sure to check back here for updates.
Bruton Smith, the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman who isn't afraid to spend money to make improvements to his track facilities, is changing the surface at Bristol Motor Speedway, he announced Wednesday.
Smith had requested fan input after the 160,000-seat grandstands were only half full at the Food City 500 two weeks ago, a dark moment for a track which once had 55 consecutive sellouts.
After collecting what he called "a wide range of opinions," Smith concluded a majority of fans wanted to see the Bristol surface altered to resemble something similar to the track's former layout, which encouraged beating and banging among cars.
"The race fans have spoken," Smith said. "... As a result, I have ordered the equipment and work will begin within the next two weeks to allow time to have everything ready for August."
Just what will those changes be, exactly? Smith either doesn't know or isn't saying yet. He said the details as to what will be done to track surface will be announced in two weeks.
"Bristol Motor Speedway has been voted the most popular race track in the country more than a half-dozen times, even one of the 10 things you need to see before you die," he said. "We aim to keep the status as the fans' favorite."
– COLUMN: What's behind Bristol's attendance woes?
– GUEST BLOGGER: A NASCAR driver posts his opinion on the Bristol debate
The following post was submitted by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Landon Cassill:
The great debate lately about short track racing in Sprint Cup has been the battle between "real racing" (whatever that may be) and the crash-fests we used to see at Bristol before the reconfiguration.
But really, what is "real racing," and who are we to just take the authority and define ourselves what stock car racing should be about?
I've seen some reputable people make statements directing fans to their local fairgrounds if they want to see crashes, or implying that if you don't like the new Bristol, you don't like racing.
I love side-by-side racing. It's one of the reasons I love going to the big, wide intermediate tracks. But who said that bumping and grinding wasn't real racing? Especially at a place like Bristol.
We drive stock cars and we have fenders for a reason. Our sport was founded on sleeves-rolled-up, hard-nosed, bump-and-grind racing. The greatest and most respected rivalries on short tracks in our sport have been the drivers taking matters into their own hands and using their cars to get around their competitors in any way possible to win the race (Google: Dale Earnhardt).
I know there is a blurry line between aggressive driving and just being a weapon and crashing people, but isn't that what stock car racing is all about? Leaning on each other? Fitting these big cars into small spaces and coming out the other end with the trophy?
That's what I dreamed of when I was a kid. That's what I watched my heroes do when they paved the way for the sport that would one day have a place for me.
I feel as though there are a lot of people in our sport who have forgotten where they got started. I can tell you that it wasn't long ago I was making my first starts at the local fairgrounds race track. To hear people that represent our sport say, "Go to the local fairgrounds if you want to see beating and banging" tells me that they may have forgotten that the sport we adore week after week was founded at the local fairgrounds race track.
Furthermore, where do you think the future of our sport is coming from? It's the local fairgrounds tracks. It's the garages across the country with normal people who just want to race, and will someday do it for a living because they earned it the same way the people in our sport now earned it.
This doesn't mean that I think we need to use the bump-and-run for every pass in every race, but I do think that we need to remember why people like tracks such as Bristol and Martinsville in the first place, and the purpose they serve in our sport.
There are many different ways to have a great race, and there is no rule that says you have to use your bumper to make a great race. There are plenty of tracks to focus on making a clean pass and using a wide racetrack to make a well-timed and set-up move.
As for Bristol? I was taught by the hard-working, hard-nosed racers in the Midwest. They made it clear that you had to earn your space on the short tracks and that you aren't entitled to anything.
I'm man enough to know when I've been moved, and when it's time to move someone. Are you?
Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith is weighing whether to change the track configuration at Bristol Motor Speedway following Sunday's poorly attended Food City 500.
The stands were half-full in the 160,000-seat stadium, giving Bristol its smallest crowd since NASCAR began estimating attendance in 2003. Some fans have been upset since Bristol reconfigured its surface in 2007 to allow more side-by-side racing – and thus tamed the once-wild action.
Smith told "Fast Talk" on the SMI-owned Performance Racing Network that he and his engineers began discussing changes at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, just hours after the race ended.
"We're getting a lot of feedback from fans, and we're going to listen to them, too," Smith told PRN. "A lot of them say, ‘Well, we like the old track the way it was.' We're going to concentrate on that, and whatever the fans want, we're going to do it."
Smith said he expected to make an announcement about SMI's decision as soon as Friday.
"We are indebted to the fans; the fans make it possible," he said. "And I'm not going to forget about that. If the fans want us to do things, when I hear from enough of them, we're going to respond and go that route because they're the ones that pay the bills."
The builder of tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway said his team has the old configuration on its computers and is looking hard at potential alterations.
"These engineers I have are very competent," he said. "We're going to study this thing until we make this decision. "(The fans) have been responding all day, and I'll tell you, they're moving the needle."
As per tradition, each NASCAR driver chose his own song to play during pre-race introductions prior to today's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Here were their selections:
• AJ Allmendinger – "The Pride" / Five Finger Death Punch
• Aric Almirola – "Wild Thing" / The Troggs
• Bobby Labonte – "Drive By" / Train
• Brad Keselowski – "Born Free" / Kid Rock
• Brendan Gaughan – Theme from The Godfather
• Brian Vickers – "Back In The Saddle" / Aerosmith
• Carl Edwards – "99" / Savage
• Casey Mears – "Kickstart My Heart" / Motley Crue
• Clint Bowyer – "Here I Go Again On My Own" / Whitesnake
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. – "Walk" / Pantera
• Dave Blaney – "If The Diesel Don't Get You Then The Jet Fuel Will" / Popa Chubby
• David Gilliland – "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" / Kenny Chesney
• David Ragan – "Flirtin' With Disaster" / Molly Hatchet
• David Reutimann – "Pretty Fly For A White Guy" / The Offspring
• David Stremme – "My Kind Of Party" / Jason Aldean
• Denny Hamlin – "Teach Me How To Dougie" / Cali Swag District
• Greg Biffle – "Ladies And Gentlemen" / Saliva
• J.J. Yeley – "We Will Rock You" / Queen
• Jamie McMurray – "Rocky Top" / Osborne Brothers
• Jeff Burton – "Ring Of Fire" / Johnny Cash
• Jeff Gordon – "Flash" / Queen
• Jimmie Johnson – "Jimi Thing" / Dave Matthews Band
• Joe Nemechek – (Asked track to play a random Brooks & Dunn song)
• Joey Logano – "Halftime" / Ying Yang Twins
• Josh Wise – "God's Not Dead (Like A Lion)" / Newsboys
• Juan Pablo Montoya – "International Love" / Pitbull
• Kasey Kahne – "Rodeo" / Garth Brooks
• Ken Schrader – "Pretty Good At Drinking Beer" / Billy Currington
• Kevin Harvick – "Save Water, Drink Beer" / Chris Young
• Kurt Busch – "Red Solo Cup" / Toby Keith
• Kyle Busch – "Power" / Kanye West
• Landon Cassill – "Hustlin'" / Rick Ross
• Marcos Ambrose – "Black And Yellow" / Wiz Khalifa
• Martin Truex Jr. – "Blind" / Korn
• Matt Kenseth – "Hell Yeah" / Rev Theory
• Michael McDowell – "Let It Start With Me" / No Other Name
• Paul Menard – "Paranoid" / Black Sabbath
• Reed Sorenson – "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" / Charlie Daniels Band
• Regan Smith – "Sail" / Awolnation
• Ryan Newman – "Camouflage" / Brad Paisley
• Scott Riggs – "Back In Black" / AC/DC
• Tony Stewart – "How Do You Like Me Now?" / Toby Keith
• Travis Kvapil – "N------s In Paris" / Jay-Z and Kanye West
The stands at Sunday's Bristol race were only half-full at best. So what's behind the decline in fan interest? Here's our theory.
Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick continued to occupy the top two spots in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Sunday's Bristol race, but they have some new challengers.
Matt Kenseth's runnerup finish moved him up two spots to third in the standings – he's now 12 points behind teammate Biffle – and Martin Truex Jr's third-place run vaulted him four positions to fourth.
Race winner Brad Keselowski was the day's biggest gainer, jumping eight spots, but Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray all moved up six spots apiece.
Carl Edwards (-8 positions) was the day's biggest loser, followed by Jeff Gordon (-6) and Marcos Ambrose (-6).
Here are the updated 2012 NASCAR point standings after Bristol:
In what has become a frustrating trend for the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne's hopes for a competitive finish ended early at Sunday's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
On Lap 24 of 500, Kahne had cleared Regan Smith's Chevrolet off Turn 4 and got the all-clear from his spotter and cousin, Kole Kahne. But Smith had poked the nose of his Impala into a hole to the outside of Kahne's right-rear quarter panel, and when Kahne moved up the track, contact between the cars ignited a multicar wreck.
Crippled in the melee were the machines of Kahne, Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch, all of whom had strong entries at Bristol.
For Kahne, it was more of the same. He was a wreck victim at Daytona in the season opener, and he hit the wall at Phoenix as the consensus favorite to win the race there.
"This is the worst way I could start a season -- to have the fastest car every single week and something happens," Kahne said ruefully as his car was being repaired. "Right there, there is no reason to force the issue at all. I'm just taking my time just cutting the bottom. Simple. I'm under Regan Smith. As slow as he was, I knew when my spotter cleared me in the center I would be clear on exit.
"He said, 'All clear, good to go.' So when I get to the exit, I knew Regan was slow, and then he was back there. I listened too much to my spotter, I guess. I hate it for everybody. It's really disappointing and discouraging to have as fast of race cars as I have -- and I have nothing to show for it."
Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway may not have ended with a Michael Waltrip Racing car in Victory Lane, but with all three MWR Toyotas finishing in the top five, it was easily the high point of the organization's season – and perhaps of its young life.
The three top-five finishes were particularly impressive for a team that only had four top-fives all of last season.
"It was a good day for obviously the whole company," Martin Truex Jr. said after finishing third. "Really a good weekend for all of us. We've had good speed in our cars all weekend."
Leading the MWR charge Sunday was Brian Vickers, who wasn't even with the team when the year started and didn't have a Cup ride as recently as three weeks ago. Vickers finished fifth in what was his first start of the season.
Driving the No. 55 car which Mark Martin had occupied for the first three races of the year, Vickers worked his way up from his 25th starting position and by Lap 95 was pacing the field, leading all but 42 of the next 167 laps. All told, Vickers would lead a total of 125 laps on the day.
"This was pretty good and it felt really good when we were out there leading," Vickers said after his first top-five since last October at Talladega. "It would have been awesome to hold on to that, but it's the first time back, so I can't complain about that."
In the end, although Vickers wasn't able to keep pace with eventual winner Brad Keselowski and runnerup Matt Kenseth, it was a day where a fifth-place finish felt like a victory.
"So proud to be a part of getting all three cars in the top five," Vickers said. "Can't thank Michael Waltrip and (co-owner) Rob Kaufmann and everyone at MWR enough. I don't know those two guys that well, but I can tell a lot about them by the group of people they've built and the team they've built. What an incredible organization."
For a driver like Vickers who is seeking redemption and trying to put a difficult past couple of years behind him, there isn't a much better way to quiet one's critics than by leading laps and finishing in the top five – especially given that he's essentially auditioning for a fulltime ride, be it with MWR or another team.
"Well, when it's your only (race) you better make it count, right?" Vickers said. "But I can't take any of the credit. Wow. Just proud to be a part of MWR, with three cars in the top five."
Vickers' surprising run overshadowed the day his teammates – Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer – each turned in as two drivers finished third and fourth, respectively.
For Truex this was a continuation of what he did at Daytona and Phoenix when he finished 12th and seventh before stumbling a bit last week in Las Vegas when crossed the line in 17th. Truex is now fourth in the point standings in a tremendously important contract year.
Bowyer, in his first season with MWR since moving over from Richard Childress Racing in the offseason, has quickly adapted to his new home. In three of the four races this season, Bowyer has finished 11th or better, including a sixth-place run last weekend in Las Vegas.
"These MWR cars have been good ever since Truex was running good at the end of last year," Bowyer said. "Just real proud of everybody. Heck of a day for MWR."
The consistency exhibited by MWR through the early part of the season is a welcome change for a team which has often been defined by its lack of reliability, and more so by its lack of success. In five years, an MWR car has never made the Chase, and the team has won just two races.
"Really throughout the middle of last year, we were kind of struggling speed-wise," Truex said. "Michael and Rob really took a step back as an organization; really kind of restructured how we did things.
"In the off-season we continued to build on that. We brought in key people – Mark, Clint and (Bowyer crew chief) Brian Pattie. We just got a good organization right now, a good bunch of people. We got three cars that seem to go to the racetrack and run really well each week. We're able to feed off each other."
With Truex fourth in points and Bowyer now sitting eighth, having a MWR-owned car in the Chase is becoming a distinct possibility.
"Across the board, it's been a lot of hard work and dedication by the team," Truex said. "In the end, all the people are doing the jobs the best they can do, and things have been working out for us."
As he waited to be interviewed by FOX following Sunday's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. peered inside Jeff Gordon's hauler.
After accidentally ruining the day of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Earnhardt Jr. knew he'd have some "damage control" to do this week.
Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th after a speeding penalty on the final pit stop relegated him to the back of the lead-lap cars, but most fans will remember the No. 88 car's day for unintentionally cutting down Gordon's left-rear tire.
"I feel bad in what happened to Jeff, but damn, man, we were just racing," he said. "That wasn't nothing! We barely touched. It was just kind of a freak deal. So I'm not going to beat myself all to hell about it. I feel bad what happened to him, and I'm going to tell him about it."
Gordon said the teammates were racing "a little bit too tight."
"He was pretty good on the restart there and we were racing hard," Gordon said. "I know that it was not intentional, but it certainly ruined our day."
Aside from the incident with Gordon and his speeding penalty (Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't think he was speeding), NASCAR's most popular driver said he felt positive and upbeat about his team's performance.
"We're running good; I think we're a good team," he said. "We're showing ... we're capable of running up front and maybe winning a race or two this year. We're going to keep it up. I'm going to take all the positives I can out of this one.
"We didn't run good here last year; we struggled and kind of limped around and made something out of nothing, but today we ran good. I feel good about that."
NASCAR racing has a new Ice Man.
As he completed the final lap of his victory in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski needled Paul Wolfe, his crew chief.
"Paul, are you nervous?" Keselowski radioed to Wolfe, his voice exuding of confidence. As he crossed the finish line six car-lengths in front of runner-up Matt Kenseth, Keselowski allowed himself an excited whoop.
The driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge scored his second straight win at the .533-mile short track and the fifth of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Martin Truex Jr. came home third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, as Michael Waltrip Racing drivers claimed positions three through five. Vickers scored the top-five in his first Cup action since his contract with Red Bull Racing ended last year.
Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard completed the top 10.
Keselowski and Kenseth had run away from the rest of the field and were battling for the lead when Tony Stewart's Chevrolet smacked the Turn 3 wall on Lap 478 to bring out the fifth caution of the race.
Unlike a restart earlier in the race, Keselowski chose the outside lane for a restart on Lap 484 and cleared Kenseth off the second corner. From there on, it was smooth sailing.
Here are the results from Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Rain showers are beginning to end and break up around Bristol Motor Speedway. There could be a few lingering pockets of sprinkles and drizzle but given current trend on the radar we should start on time or very close to it. For the latest radar, check out my live Bristol Motor Speedway weather radar.
Once this area of rain pushes through we will dry out, could even see some clearing with peeks of sunshine. There is just a very small threat of an isolated showers the rest of the afternoon. It looks like we will get all 500 miles complete.
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a lingering sprinkle – temp: 70
3:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, isolated threat of shower – temp: 72
5:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, isolated threat of shower – temp: 73
Here's a viewer's guide to help you follow along with today's NASCAR action at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Greg Biffle and his strong start to the year
It's hard to start a year better than Greg Biffle, as the Roush Fenway driver has finished third in all three races and topped things off by winning the pole Friday for today's running of the Food City 500. His consistency thus far has been rewarded as it has placed him atop the points standings for just the second time in his career by a margin of 10 markers over second-place Kevin Harvick.
Biffle attributes his early season success to changes crew chief Matt Puccia made over the offseason, including upgrading the 16 team's pit crew, which had been a glaring area of weakness the last few years.
Starting on the pole this afternoon should help Biffle do something he's yet to do in his career - win on a track less than a mile in length. But don't be fooled by "The Biff's" lack of victory at Bristol, as through the years he's proved to be as good as anyone getting around the half-mile bullring nestled in the hills of northeastern Tennessee, as indicated by his 11.8 average finish, fourth best among active drivers.
Can Tony Stewart continue his winning ways?
After a rough couple races to open the season, Tony Stewart rolled to victory a week ago in Las Vegas, exhibiting the form he showed last fall in winning five Chase races along with the Championship. Historically never a fast starter, the question many are now wondering is whether last week is a harbinger of things to come in Stewart's quest to win back-to-back titles or was it a fleeting moment as Stewart and new crew chief Steve Addington continue to work out the early season kinks?
The biggest hurdle Stewart faces in winning this afternoon is whether he can get a handle on the concrete surface which encompasses Bristol Motor Speedway. In four starts a year ago at Bristol and Dover - the only two tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where the racing surface is all concrete and not asphalt - Stewart struggled mightily, with a best finish of 19th and average finish of 25.25.
Joe Gibbs Racing looking for a rebound
Through two races Joe Gibbs Racing appeared to have solved the numerous woes which plagued them throughout the 2011 season. However, last week in Las Vegas none of the three JGR cars finished better than 16th and questions again have resurfaced as to whether JGR is ready to challenge the powerhouse teams of Roush, Hendrick, Childress and Stewart-Haas for the championship.
The good news for JGR is Bristol has typically been a track where they are at their best. Particularly for Busch, who last year in this race led 153 laps en route to his first win of the season and overall, has won four of the last six races in Thunder Valley.
Needing a turnaround
It hasn't been the best of starts for Kurt Busch and his new team, Phoenix Racing. While a win today might be a long shot, a solid top-10 finish isn't. In fact, if Busch is to turn around his season and put his team in position to make a run at a Chase berth, a good finish this afternoon is almost a must.
The same can be said for Busch's replacement at Penske Racing, AJ Allmendinger, who has yet to finish on the lead lap, has a best finish this season of 18th and is buried back in 29th in the standings.
1. Kyle Busch
The list of favorites begins and ends with the guy who at Bristol has won four of the last six, has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 12 races and has the best average finish (9.1) among all active drivers.
2. Carl Edwards
There's a lot to like about Carl Edwards today. He's a two-time Bristol winner (2007 and '08), was fastest in opening practice and finished a close second to Kyle Busch in this race last year. One caveat; yesterday Edwards was feeling a bit under the weather and gave way to Trevor Bayne in the morning practice session. However Edwards is expected to run the full race today.
3. Greg Biffle
No, Greg Biffle has never visited Victory Lane at Bristol but he has come close. In 18 career starts on the half-mile track, he has finished in the top 10 11 times including six finishes of fifth or better. With this in mind, along with him starting on the pole, it adds up to a driver who should be in the mix for a good finish this afternoon.
When I pegged AJ Allmendinger as my sleeper at Phoenix it didn't work out so well, as he got into an accident and finished a lap down in 18th. But starting on the outside of the front row today and setting the fastest lap in morning practice yesterday, there is hope he should be better this time around and live up to his sleeper status.
Showers moved into northeast Tennessee, including Bristol Motor Speedway, during the pre-dawn hours. The showers were steady and light with the bulk of the rain falling during the early morning hours. The steadiest of the rain should begin to end between 6 and 8 a.m.
By mid to late morning there will be a few lingering pockets of light rain and drizzle as drier air tries to work in behind the departing system. Midday and early afternoon most of the activity should push off to the east-northeast and begin to dry out with mostly cloudy skies and some partial clearing.
How will all of this affect the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway? I stayed up late and into the early morning hours to watch this area of rain as it moved slowly into northeast Tennessee. Depending on how long it takes NASCAR to dry the track, I think we still get this race in during the afternoon. I'd say it is better than 60 percent chance that we get the race started on time and better than 80 percent we get the race in today. I will update if anything changes this morning and afternoon. For the latest radar, check out my live Bristol Motor Speedway weather radar.
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a lingering shower – temp: 70
3:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a lingering shower – temp: 72
5:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a lingering shower – temp: 73
It's NASCAR race day at Bristol Motor Speedway and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.
What time does the race start today? The drivers will fire their engines in advance of today's Bristol race at 1:07 p.m. EDT, with the command given by managers from local Food City stores (the race sponsor). Then an official from Food City will wave the green flag at approximately 1:13 p.m. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, flip on your TV at 1:13.
Race name/distance: The Food City 500 is 500 laps – not miles – around Bristol Motor Speedway, which is just over 0.5 mile in length. Overall, the race distance will be 266.5 miles (again, not 500 as some people think).
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup Series race through May will be on the FOX network. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Performance Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check PRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
National anthem: The McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base H4 Quartet will sing today's anthem, which is interesting because country singer Kellie Pickler is doing a pre-race concert. Apparently, though, the track opted for a military group instead.
Tickets: Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith said Friday he does not expect today's race to be a sellout. In fact, last year's Bristol race appeared to be just over half full. So if you're thinking of making a last-minute trip to Bristol this afternoon, there should be plenty of tickets available.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, predicts unseasonably warm temperatures for today's race – which also means some pop-up thundershowers in the region. It's unclear whether any of the storms will hit the track, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Last time: Kyle Busch won the spring race one year ago after he beat Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson on a late restart to earn his fifth consecutive Bristol race win (across all three series). Then Brad Keselowski took advantage of the pit road timing lines to continue his improbable streak last summer by driving to Victory Lane.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says his late contact with Justin Allgaier during Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Bristol was the result of frustration – both with the race and Allgaier himself.
Stenhouse was frustrated to see his shot at a race win slip away with a two-tire call when eventual winner Elliott Sadler stayed on the track, but he was also upset with the way Allgaier raced him earlier in the day.
That led to some hard contact between the two drivers as the laps wound down.
"I was frustrated, obviously, with our race car and the call to take tires," Stenhouse said via phone Saturday night. "But it goes back to earlier in the race. ... I had gotten to the outside of (Allgaier), and he pinched us into the wall. He's the hardest guy to pass in the Nationwide Series, it seems like."
When Allgaier and Stenhouse found one another again toward the end of the event, Stenhouse was steamed.
"If I'd seen that respect earlier in the race, I wouldn't have made it tough on him there at the end," he said.
Allgaier said the contact was "no big deal" after the race but asked Stenhouse's teammate Trevor Bayne what he could have done differently (Bayne said he didn't see the incident).
"You do everything to race as hard as you can and as clean as you can and hope everybody else races you the same way," Allgaier said.
Though he was frustrated at the time, Stenhouse said he spoke to crew chief Mike Kelley after the race and told him, "I never want to have your job, deciding whether to come in or stay out."
But the driver said he nearly stayed out on his own instead of coming down pit road to take two tires. The team knew Sadler would do the opposite of whatever it decided, and that led to Sadler winning the race.
On that note, the defending Nationwide Series champion said he's fully aware the points race with Sadler is "gonna be a battle."
Sadler now leads Stenhouse by 25 points in the standings, and the Roush Fenway Racing driver said he believes rookie Austin Dillon will be a factor in the championship hunt as well.
"(Sadler and his team) are not making any mistakes right now, and they're on top of their game," Stenhouse said. "We're going to have to be on top of our game, too. It's going to be fun. The way the Nationwide Series is right now, it's going to be really interesting."
Sweat poured off Ryan Truex's brow after he climbed from Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car on Saturday, but there was a smile on his face as well.
After a pit road speeding penalty that required him to start at the rear of the field, Truex worked hard to rally for a 10th-place finish in the Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway – his first of seven scheduled races this season for JGR.
"There's a lot of people that doubt me, for whatever reason," Truex said. "I'm young, I haven't proven myself in the Nationwide Series yet, I haven't won yet. I feel like I've earned this ride, and I'm just trying to prove it."
Truex said he was "happy" with the overall day, particularly since sponsor Grime Boss is the first personal sponsor he's ever had. He's eager to perform for the company to reward executives' faith, he said.
"First race at Bristol, first top-10," he said. "So I can't complain."
Justin Allgaier walked over to Trevor Bayne's window and leaned in to have a discussion after the race.
But Allgaier wasn't talking to Bayne because of a problem between the drivers. Rather, he was curious about Bayne's view of Allgaier's clash with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Late in Saturday's race, Allgaier and Stenhouse Jr. made rough contact while racing for position.
"You know what? It's Bristol and it's hard racing," Allgaier said afterward. "I wish it hadn't happened, but it is what it is and we go on to California. No big deal."
Allgaier said drivers never forget anything, but added, "I'm not the type of person that's ever going to retaliate."
"You do everything to race as hard as you can and as clean as you can and hope everybody else races you the same way," Allgaier said.
Stenhouse Jr. was unavailable for comment after the race.
Heading into the Bristol race, Danica Patrick figured to struggle at another short track – the type of circuits which have been her nemesis in NASCAR.
But she ended up running a clean race and finishing 19th, two laps behind the leaders.
"It's respectable for me on a short track," she said. "There wasn't many yellows either, and usually that's pretty hard on me, not being able to tune on the car."
Patrick's JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, didn't fare much better (16th) despite being known as a more talented short-track driver.
"I know that's my area of weakness and where I need to work on things the most," Patrick said. "I think we both have different strengths."
Despite not being entered in the Nationwide race until the last minute – the No. 60 car had no sponsorship until a few days ago – Bayne led a career-high 64 laps and finished eighth in Saturday's race.
He spent a significant amount of time racing for the lead with teammate Stenhouse Jr., but both drivers were burned by pit strategy when they took two tires.
"It's not fun when you're trying to hold your breath every corner trying to hang on at Bristol, but it is good for us to be battling like that for the lead," Bayne said. "Jack (Roush) has got two stout teams here running hard and two drivers who are hopefully the future of his company. That's where we want to be."
Bayne said he would drive in the Nationwide Series race at Fontana next week, but it was his understanding there was no sponsorship for the car.
An astute call to stay on the racetrack under caution gave Elliott Sadler the boost he needed to win his second NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season, two weeks after he broke a 14-year drought at Phoenix.
The Nationwide Series points leader drove away from Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski after a restart on Lap 273 of 300 and beat Kahne to the finish line by 1.159 seconds to win Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The victory was the seventh of Sadler's career, and it came at the .533-mile track that gave him the first of his three Sprint Cup victories in 2001.
Keselowski finished third, followed by polesitter Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Truex completed the top 10.
With a two-tire stop on Lap 160, Bayne took the lead off pit road and held it until Stenhouse passed him in traffic on Lap 224. Stenhouse drove away as Bayne and Keselowski battled for the second spot; with 40 laps left Stenhouse held a 2.873-second advantage over Sadler, who had blown by both Bayne and Keselowski to take over the second position.
Sadler stayed out under caution after Kyle Busch's No. 54 Toyota pounded the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the fourth caution of the race on Lap 262. Kahne stayed out with Sadler, but all the drivers behind the top two came to pit road.
It didn't matter to Sadler that the drivers behind him had new tires. On old rubber, he pulled away for his second win in four Nationwide starts this year.
NASCAR Nationwide Series results from Bristol:
This has been a year of firsts for Danica Patrick.
Not only is this her first full year running the entire slate of Nationwide Series races, but she is also making her first trips to Darlington, Talladega and...Eldora?
Yes, that's right. Another first was added earlier this week when it was announced Patrick would be taking part in team owner Tony Stewart's annual "Prelude to the Dream" Late Model charity race June 6 at Eldora Speedway.
"I want to do well, but I realize I have zero experience and I have a lot of other things I need to put my focus into this year, so I'm going to try to go into it with more of an open mind," Patrick said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Prelude to the Dream will mark only the second time Patrick has competed on a dirt track – her first was on a go-kart track located right outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway when she was 14 years old.
"My experience is limited and I'm really going into it with more of an attitude of just having fun, enjoying myself and raising money for hungry kids and take it all in," Patrick said.
Patrick will join Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman, 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte, Kenny Wallace, Aric Almirola, Truck Series rookie of the year contender Ty Dillon and the aforementioned Stewart as drivers who have already committed to running the charity race with proceeds benefitting Feed The Children.
"I'm excited," Stewart said Friday between Sprint Cup practice sessions. "I told her, 'Don't feel like you have to come do this.' She said, 'No, I really want to do this.' I'm excited for her. I don't think it's something that she has had a chance to do very much. It will be fun to get her in an environment that is definitely new to her, for sure."
Added Jeff Gordon: "Those cars are a blast to drive. I don't know how much dirt experience that she has, but it will be an education, for sure."
Although there are scattered showers in the forecast this weekend for Bristol Motor Speedway, the majority of the time should be dry and rain free.
This doesn't mean a shower won't threaten and or even hit the track, it just means because the showers and storms will be scattered across the area, though many more could miss the track than hit it.
The best chance for widespread scattered showers and storms will be Saturday afternoon when we get into the heat of the day. The most likely time would be from 2-8 p.m. EDT. Bristol has lights, so there's plenty of time to get the Nationwide Series race in today.
Sunday's forecast is a little better, though there's still the possibility of some scattered showers developing in the afternoon – but they don't look to be as widespread as Saturday.
Both Saturday and Sunday will feature partly sunny skies, and very warm temperatures for mid-March. High temperatures in the afternoon will be in the upper 70s to near 80 degrees.
9:30 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Partly sunny, Isolated chc. of Shower/Storm – temp: 59
10:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny, Isolated chc. of Shower/Storm – temp: 65
12:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny , Scattered Showers or Storms – temp: 70
2`:00 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Partly sunny , Scattered Showers or Storms – temp: 75
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly sunny, Isolated chc. of Shower/Storm – temp: 71
NASCAR has added two pit road timing lines on each side of the track at Bristol to lessen the advantage of certain pit stalls.
Brad Keselowski raised eyebrows during his victory at the .533-mile track last August by accelerating rapidly from his pit stall and slowing suddenly as he approached the next time line. Since pit road speed is measured across areas separated by the timing lines, certain stalls located just beyond timing lines have been particularly advantageous.
Consequently, a driver can go as fast as possible in the segment in which his or her pit stop occurs without fear of a speeding penalty, effectively circumventing for a short burst Bristol's 30 mph pit-road speed limit.
The timing lines added to the frontstretch and backstretch pits effectively cut the timing segments from the length of 11 pit stalls to six.
Jeff Gordon applauded the move.
"There are still slight advantages to certain stalls, but the increments of the advantages get much smaller when you do that," Gordon said. "It needed to be done."
Denny Hamlin agreed.
"I think that there were a handful of boxes that had humongous advantages over others, and I think that's going to change that quite a bit," Hamlin said. "I do think it's needed, because if you have a pit road speed – and Martinsville is another track where they need to add some lines – that speed is set at that mile-per-hour because that's where they feel safe with those cars driving through pit road.
"Well, if we're able to cheat it by 10 miles an hour, that's cheating it 30-something percent. That's beyond where they felt initially it was safe, so they need to keep us at that mile-per-hour they want us at and, to do that, you need timing lines all over the place so people can't cheat the line."
Everything seems to be going right for Greg Biffle these days.
Biffle won his 10th career pole position on Friday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway, edging AJ Allmendinger by one one-thousandth of a second to earn the top spot for Sunday's Food City 500.
"I gotta pinch myself," said Biffle, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. "I think I'm dreaming. ... I'm having a great time – the time of my life."
Biffle had a fast average speed of 125.215 mph, which put him ahead of Allmendinger, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.
"I know this isn't going to last all season, but I'm enjoying the hell out of it right now," Biffle said.
Regan Smith, Aric Almirola, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 10.
Timmy Hill was the only driver who failed to qualify for the race, but Robby Gordon withdrew due to mechanical problems earlier in the day.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Despite Tuesday's appeals panel decision to uphold the initial NASCAR penalties levied against Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team, driver Jimmie Johnson remains confident and optimistic his crew would be cleared of wrongdoing.
"I'm definitely disappointed in what happened last Tuesday," Johnson said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I have hope that this next appeal will be heard and we will have a different outcome. There is no telling how it is all going to shake out."
The appeals panel kept the original penalties in place, including a six-week suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, along with a loss of 25 points for Johnson and a $100,000 fine for Knaus.
But Hendrick has another chance to appeal the penalties on Tuesday with chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. And on that front, Johnson is looking forward to some sort of resolution – one way or another – so he can move on with his season.
"We either are down a ton of points or some points depending on what happens (Tuesday)," he said. "Race wins I think are premium and top of mind right now. I think all drivers look at the Chase and think if you can win two or three races, the points are what they are; the wild card can carry you in. We want to win races and get as many points as we possibly can."
Johnson said Hendrick continues to fight because "we clearly feel we have a point to make."
Surprisingly, Johnson said Hendrick has no contingency plan in place if Knaus and Malec are out for an extended period of time.
"If things stand, it will be a huge blow to the team," Johnson said. "I feel like we can work through it and still have a chance to win races, but it would be very difficult.
"We do have depth in our organization. We feel like if this next appeal, things don't change, we are not overly concerned because of the depth we have, but still we know how important this sport is along the lines of chemistry."
Without question, Johnson's quest to his win sixth series championship will take a blow if he is docked 25 driver points and loses his crew and car chief. The six races Knaus and Malec would be forced to miss are Auto Club Speedway (Calif.), Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega – all tracks Johnson has won on previously, including wins last year at Talladega and Kansas.
"Twenty-five points is a big number," Johnson said. "It puts a premium back on winning, and then you don't have your crew chief and car chief, so winning is going to be that much more difficult. It's a double-edged sword. It's not an easy deal to go through; that is why we are fighting these appeals like we are."
A lingering issue and one that won't be truly answered for some time is what the impact will be on Johnson's legacy if indeed his crew chief is suspended for the third time in seven years for a rules violation. Will Johnson's five Sprint Cup titles and 55 career wins forever carry an asterisk next to them?
When asked that question Friday, Johnson was convinced his team's continued run-ins with NASCAR won't tarnish his otherwise remarkable accomplishments.
"You all know that there is not a car more scrutinized in this garage area than the No. 48 car," Johnson said. "It's been that way for the last decade. By no means do I think it hampers it at all."
NASCAR enjoyed great weather in the deserts of Phoenix and Las Vegas, but this weekend NASCAR returns east to Bristol Motor Speedway – and rain returns as well.
The forecast this weekend is very challenging. The current weather pattern over east Tennessee is more like early summer than early spring. Each afternoon, there is a chance for pop-up showers and thunderstorms. This makes for a complicated weather forecast, because you know rain will form in the region – you just never know where.
I don’t see this weekend being a total wash, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a shower or two that could cause delays or wash out a practice or qualifying. There will be a lot of “nowcasting” this weekend, which mean there will be a lot of updates here and on Twitter as showers and storms form and move near or over the track.
The best day this weekend still looks like Sunday. It’s not totally rain-free, but the threat of rain is lower and any showers that could develop should be few and far between. My current thinking is we should race on Sunday and be mostly dry. Just have to watch the radar for the possibility of a shower or storm to form during the race.
2:00 p.m ET
Nationwide Final Practice – Mostly Cloudy, Scattered Showers/Storms – temp: 73
3:40 p.m ET
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Mostly Cloudy, Scattered Showers/Storms – temp: 75
9:30 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Sun & Clouds, Chance of Shower/Storm – temp: 59
10:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Sun & Clouds, Chance of Shower/Storm – temp: 62
12:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Sun & Clouds, Chance of Shower/Storm – temp: 70
2`:00 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Clouds, some Sun, Scattered showers and Storms – temp: 75
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly sunny Chance of Scattered Showers and Storms – temp: 71
Brian Vickers took steps Friday to distance himself from the infamous Maxim magazine article that portrayed him as a party animal who has "relentless, connoisseur's pursuit of pussy in all its forms."
The article, which is no longer available online, said Vickers "gains velocity by consuming untold vodkas, lurches from club to bar to club, and staggers home with women in multiples."
"That was completely a lie," Vickers said upon returning to Bristol Motor Speedway in preparation for his first NASCAR race of the season. "I could have sued them if I really wanted to. I chose not to because I think it was only going to drag the experience out, but I had three witnesses for that interview and every one of them would attest in court that most, if not all, of that article was completely made up."
Vickers said author Mike Guy printed "blatant lies" and said "the quotes weren't even real quotes."
"I think he said something at one time in the article about scotch on the rocks, and I've never drank scotch in my life, ever," Vickers said. "I have no idea where that came from. He just made it up."
When the story was published in February 2011, it became the buzz of the garage area. At the time, Vickers' friends seemed to think the story sounded like an accurate portrayal.
"I know that Brian, definitely," close friend Jimmie Johnson said at the time. "With a year off, I think he pursued as many things off track as possible and certainly had a lot of fun. ... Brian has always had an interesting point of view on things. He has never lacked confidence, either. I felt like that came through in the article."
But in a little-noticed blog post in April, Vickers wrote the Maxim article was "loosely based on a true story."
"We didn't really even go out for a drink," Vickers wrote. "We did an interview talking about my heart surgery, coming back to racing, and overcoming adversity and all that stuff."
If the article is a false portrayal, then Vickers' reputation and his quest to find a new NASCAR team may have been damaged.
But in a statement to SB Nation, author Guy said defended his story.
"I stand by my reporting – and the reaction of Brian's peers to the story – and wish him the best of luck securing a ride," Guy said.
Vickers found himself jobless after Red Bull Racing shut down in the offseason and though he is running six Cup races for Michael Waltrip Racing, there are no other races on his schedule for now.
On Friday, Vickers even said the Red Bull lifestyle with his previous team was somewhat of an exaggeration.
"GMAC wanted me to do an appearance at a dealership (when he was at Hendrick Motorsports); Red Bull wanted me to swim with sharks," he said. "... Did I enjoy sky diving and scuba diving? Yeah, of course. Would I rather be at a test at Nashville for two days with the race team learning more about the race car? Yeah, but that's not what they wanted. They wanted (me) to be sky diving.
"That was what was important to them, so it just is part of the sport."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was upset with Mark Martin after last weekend's NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, putting the veteran driver in the wall for what he perceived to be a block.
Martin was unwilling to concede the top line of the track to Earnhardt Jr. when the latter driver came with a run off the corner, and Earnhardt Jr. bumped him and forced the No. 55 car to hit the wall in response.
The drivers spoke the day after the race and "sorted out" their problem, Earnhardt Jr. said.
"I (believe) that he should have let me have the top, but it's his prerogative, really, to do what he wants," he said. "It was a big deal to me at the moment, but overall in the grand scheme of things, it was kind of petty and I put him in the fence for it. It was kind of foolish of me."
Earnhardt Jr. said he was frustrated after being stuck in traffic, since he led 70 laps of the start of the race and "looked pretty good there for awhile."
Martin, for his part, said he was moving past the incident.
"Talked 2 JR," Martin tweeted Monday. "We both regret what happened. I ask my fans 2 lay off being so rough on him. He is 1 of the most respectful guys n racing. We r good."
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