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NASCAR race preview: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

by Mike Haag | Posted on Sunday, April 15th, 2018

News, notes, audio and photos courtesy of NASCAR

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Food City 500

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, April 15

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 125),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 250), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 500)

 

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, gets into his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 14, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Who’s in First?

Last week’s winner Kyle Busch and the season’s three-time winner Kevin Harvick have shared a lot of time at the top of the leaderboard this year – and their overall combination of first/second places in a race is nearing modern day record marks.

This past weekend, Busch beat Harvick to the line. Two other times this season (at Las Vegas and Phoenix), Harvick finished first and Busch was second.

In fact, the two former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champions have combined for eight one-two finishes in their careers, one less than Busch and Brad Keselowski. Interestingly, this week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series venue, Bristol Motor Speedway, is a place that Busch and Harvick have NEVER finished first and second together in a race.

Among active drivers, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have an all-time high of 13 races where they finished a combination of first and second.

The Monster Energy Series all-time record belongs to Richard Petty and David Pearson, who finished a variation of one-two in 58 races.

Johnson leads all active drivers with 78 finishes of first or second-place over the last 10 seasons. Busch is right behind with 75, followed by Harvick (68), Keselowski (46) and Denny Hamlin (45).

Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, walks to his car during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 13, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

All They Do Is Win, Win, Win

There is great history of Bristol win streaks topped all-time by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip’s seven-race victory streak from 1981-84. Waltrip’s historical run was halted in the August, 1984, race by another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Terry Labonte, who went on to win his first Cup title that year.

Modern day drivers have also shown a propensity for consecutive wins at Bristol. Kurt Busch leads all present-day Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitors, winning three in a row – a 2003 season sweep plus the spring race in 2004.  And he nearly won five straight, as he won the spring 2002 trophy, but Jeff Gordon won the fall race.

His younger brother and the current Monster Energy Series points leader Kyle Busch also nearly won five straight – he swept the 2009 Bristol races, Jimmie Johnson won the spring race in 2010, and then Kyle won the next two — the fall of 2010 and the spring of 2011.

Brad Keselowski is the latest to hoist back-to-back Bristol trophies, doing so in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012, his Monster Energy Series championship year.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 13, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Short Track Prowess

With Martinsville Speedway in the rearview mirror, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series completes its early spring short track trio of races at Bristol this week, then Richmond Raceway next week. A look at the best drivers at these tracks in the past five years during the spring span shows Carl Edwards as the winningest driver with three victories. Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch all have two apiece.

However, Kyle Busch boasts the most top-two finishes with five. Clint Bowyer and Johnson have four each. Logano has the most top fives (eight), followed by Kyle Busch (seven). Brad Keselowski, Johnson and Harvick all have six each.

Erik Jones, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, stands by his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 14, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

On The Verge

Second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Erik Jones picked up his best finish of the 2018 season at Texas – a fourth-place effort after starting 21st.  He’s quietly been reeling off impressive showings this season, collecting five top-11s in the opening seven races.

And the half-mile Bristol bullring is a place Jones must be looking forward to. In the series’ last race there – the August night race – he earned his first Monster Energy Series Busch pole position and led a race-high 260 laps before finishing second to his current Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

Granted, he has only two Monster Energy Series starts at Bristol, but statistically Jones, 22, leads his competitors in average finish (9.5), average running position (5.135) and running the most laps (913) in the top-15. His 116.3 driver rating is tops as well, even though he hasn’t won a Cup race there. Yet.

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Jones was equally as hot. He won both the 2016 and 2017 Bristol spring races and in 2016, he won from the pole. He started on pole in the 2015 spring race as well.

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, stands by his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 13, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“I feel like we’re settling into our groove a little bit,’’ Jones said at Texas. “This is a good two‑week stretch. Coming in, I was pretty excited going to Texas number one, then off to Bristol next week. Fun weeks for me, two of my favorite tracks. We just need to keep it going.”

Top of the Standings

Kyle Busch extended his lead atop the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings with his win at Texas, but Team Penske teammates Joey Logano (-38) and Ryan Blaney (-51) remain on his heels.

Logano has two wins and seven top-10 finishes in 18 starts at the half-miler while Blaney is still looking for his first top five. Six drivers among the top 10 in the standings have wins at Bristol – and with the exception of Denny Hamlin’s lone win in 2012 – the other five (Kyle Busch, Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch) have multiple wins.

Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #43 STP Chevrolet, pushes his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 13, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Rookies Racing Well

Last weekend’s race in Texas marks the first time in the 2018 season both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookies posted top-10 finishes in the same event. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. finished eighth in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet and William Byron finished a career-best 10th (and led a lap) in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron moves to 18th in the season championship rankings and Wallace is 19th, nine points behind.

Neither driver has scored a NASCAR national series victory at the traditionally tough Bristol half-miler, however. Both of their best finishes at this weekend’s venue came while competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Wallace was runner-up in a 2014 race and Byron’s career-best run there was a fourth place in the 2016 truck race.

Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #43 STP Chevrolet, sits on pit wall prior to the start of practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 14, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Go-nassi

It was the “best of days” and “worst of days” for Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Jamie McMurray’s third-place finish was his first top-five finish of the season.  Conversely, his teammate, Kyle Larson suffered his first DNF – a 36th-place finish.

The tough Bristol bullring where they race this weekend, however, may give the team some optimism.

Larson started his No. 42 Chevrolet on the Busch Pole for this spring race last year and led a race-best 202 laps – consecutively from the drop of the green flag – before finishing sixth. He led 70 laps in the fall race, leading three different times. And Bristol marks the venue he scored his very first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series top 10 – a 10th-place finish in the spring of his 2014 rookie season.

Although the veteran McMurray hasn’t won at Bristol, he does have a strong resume at the track, particularly in recent years. He has seven top-10 finishes there in the last 16 races – leading 148 laps and finishing eighth in 2014. He finished third in the 2010 spring race.

High Hopes

Kasey Kahne – who celebrated a birthday Tuesday – returns to Bristol, Tennessee, with reason to feel good about his chances to post a season-best mark.

Since moving from Hendrick Motorsports to the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet this season, Kahne’s best showing was last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, a 17thplace finish.

And he arrives in Bristol with an enviable history. In 2013, he won the spring race and finished second in the fall race.

And his name is also among those power players with a lot of first- or second-place career finishes on the schedule. He had five runner-up efforts in his 2004 rookie year. He is seventh on the list of drivers with the most first- or second-place finishes in the last 10 years, with 25.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Cutting it close: Two of Kyle Busch’s six victories at Bristol are the two closest finishes since electronic scoring began. The closest ever was Busch’s .064-seconds over Jeff Burton. The second closest finish was his .098-second win over Mark Martin.

OEM Parity: The manufacturers have rather equally divided the 10-race history from 2013. Chevrolet and Ford each have three wins in that time frame and Toyota has four.

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.