Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Bristol Food City 500 Preview

By Micah Roberts

Kyle Busch has been king of the concrete (Getty)
Last week in Las Vegas we got to see some major horsepower displayed, but not a lot of drivers were mixing it up while running in single file for most of the day. This week at Bristol we get some side-by-side short track racing which usually brings and the best and worst of drivers. The drama created on the track translates into must-see TV throughout the race.

“Racing at Bristol is like fighter jets in a gymnasium," said Carl Edwards earlier this week. "The banking is so high, you drive down in the corner and the forces pushing the car into the track seem so much greater than anywhere else we go. The rate at which the car is changing direction is very fast. It always takes me a few laps in the race, 10-15 laps in, to get comfortable with the pace of it because things are happening so quickly there.

Bristol is a high banked half-mile track that has multiple grooves allowing drivers to pass either high or low. We don’t see the type of love taps or punts we used to under the old layout where drivers fought for the bottom line, but the best thing about Bristol stills remains: it’s tight and cramped with all 43 drivers trying to create their own space when very little is available.

The favorite coming into this weeks race is Kyle Busch due to winning four of the last six races run there. He has five wins in 14 starts and it would seem appropriate that a driver with the nickname “Rowdy” would be the driver to beat on a track like Bristol.

“I’m not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol," said Busch when asked about his Bristol success. "I’ve just had a lot of success there, but I’ve also had some misfortune there, too. Ever since I got through my rookie year, I’ve just taken a liking to the place. Of course, I’ve been able to get some help from my brother (Kurt). He’s always been really, really good there. But, when they changed the track to this current surface, I just really took to it right away. I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great racecars from Joe Gibbs Racing."

The timing for Bristol couldn’t have come at a better time for Busch because he’s still searching for a good run that meets his standards. He’s had only one top-10 finish in the three races run thus far and currently sits 12th in points. The one positive out of Busch so far is that despite not having great cars, he’s been able take the finish allowed by the car and not try and push it more than it was capable of. The fact that he’s 12th right now could be a sign of maturity and finally understanding big picture racing.

Busch will be using a brand new chassis this week with hopes of getting his sixth career Bristol win and make him the active leader among drivers. He'll be half way to the track record of 12 held by Darrell Waltrip.

Carl Edwards is a two-time winner at Bristol that probably feels very fortunate to be where he’s at right now. In the last two races, Edwards did not have a good car, but what they did last week was amazing. After looking terrible in Saturday’s final practices, Edwards crew had to make the car better during the race. Edwards was not a contender throughout running outside the top-15, but during each pit stop, they got progressively better until ultimately finishing in fifth-place. That is the sign of championship team. Edwards best finish over the last six Bristol races was runner-up in this race last season.

Edwards will be using a chassis that saw action last season at Chicago (fourth-place) and Dover (third-place).

Sitting atop the leader board in points is Edwards’ teammate Greg Biffle. After three races, he’s the only driver to finish in the top-5 in all three. Bristol has been one of Biffle’s better tracks over his career. Although he’s never won a Cup race there, he does have an 11.8 average finish position that includes six top-5 finishes. This team is really clicking right now and although it’s early, he might be a driver to take an early shot with to win the championship. The LVH Super Book updated their future odds with Biffle at 12-to-1.

Johnson has adapted well to Bristol's new surface (Getty)
The favorites to win the championship are currently Edwards and Jimmie Johnson at 5-to-1. Just like Edwards, Johnson’s team showed why they are five-time champs. After wrecking their primary car in final practice, the No. 48 team got their back-up off the hauler and set-up in time for Johnson to run the final 20 minutes of practice. They worked on their car making it better in each pit stop and went on to contend for the win until ultimately settling for a runner-up finish.

Bristol had not been one of Johnson’s best tracks, but when they changed to the variable banking it made the track run like a mini-Dover and Johnson excelled. He captured a win in 2010 and has finished no worse than eighth in five of his last six starts.

Johnson has a pretty good car this week as well. In five 2011 starts, the chassis never finished worse than ninth and included runner-up finishes at California and Atlanta.

Matt Kenseth is a two-time Bristol winner, doing so on the old layout. He’s finished in the top-10 in each of his last five Bristol starts with a best of fourth in this race last season. He'll be using a brand new car this week.

Jeff Gordon is a five-time Bristol winner, the last coming in 2002. He’s been competitive on the new layout with three top-5 finishes, including a best of third in the fall race last season.

Tony Stewart has an even larger gap in time from his last win than Gordon does. Stewart thought Bristol was easy after winning in 2001, but since then he’s managed only three top-5 finishes in 20 starts. He was runner-up in 2010, but his last three starts have seen him finish 19th or worse.

Brad Keselowski charged hard for the win last fall and just like Kyle Busch, this track suits his attitude perfect. With all the heat on Kyle Busch from NASCAR and his sponsors, we don’t get to see the true “Rowdy” come out to play anymore, but Keselowski could be that type of villain we like to love and hate at the same time. Here’s to hoping Keselwoski picks a fight Sunday afternoon and shakes some things up in the series.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #16 Greg Biffle (14/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (12/1)
5) # 2 Brad Keselowski (18/1)

No comments: