NASCAR At Bristol 2012: Viewer's Guide For Today's Sprint Cup Series Race

Here's a viewer's guide to help you follow along with today's NASCAR action at Bristol Motor Speedway:

Storylines

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.

Worth Noting

  • With another finish inside the top three, Greg Biffle will become the first driver since Dale Earnhardt in 1989 to start the year with four consecutive finishes of third or better.
  • How important is qualifying at Bristol? Very. The last 14 winners and 18 of the last 19 have all started 20th or better. Of all 102 races held here overall, 82 of them have been won by a driver starting in the top 10, which equates to 79 percent.
  • Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each have five Bristol victories, most among active drivers.

Favorites

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.

Sleeper

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.

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