Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – BRISTOL, TN – The NASCAR racing at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway half-mile is innately exciting, challenging and must-see TV. And if you ask the drivers, it’s a real skill set that is important to master.
Some competitors seem to fall into it naturally. For others, it’s a work in progress.
It’s been five years – 10 races – since someone has won twice consecutively at Bristol. Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski did so in the Fall of 2011 and the Spring of 2012 – his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship season.
The last five races at the track have been won by: Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch – in a Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet, Chevrolet and Toyota, respectively.
But there are some definite short track trends to consider when sizing up Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol (2 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Counting the three Spring time short track stops – at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway the series raced two weeks ago, the Bristol half-miler this week and the .75-mile Richmond Raceway the series moves to next week, there are only three current drivers with multiple Spring wins in the last five years.
Defending winner of the Food City 500, Jimmie Johnson has two victories as does Logano and Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch, who won in the Fall at Bristol, leads all current drivers with five first or second place finishes at the three Spring-time short track stops. And 2018 Martinsville winner, Clint Bowyer and defending Bristol winner Johnson are next with four finishes of first or second in the Spring.
It’s Logano that tops everyone with top-five finishes. He has eight, compared to Kyle Busch’s seven. Keselowski, Johnson and Harvick have collected six top-five finishes during that five-year springtime race span.
Kyle Busch is unquestionably the current master of Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s led twice as many laps (2,116) as any other current Cup driver there and his six victories is tops as well among active drivers.
Interestingly the two Busch brothers – six-time winner Kyle (2,116) and five-time Bristol winner Kurt (1,062) have combined to lead 3,178 total laps at the track. They are the two most prolific Bristol race leaders among current drivers.
Here’s what three of Bristol’s most prolific winners have to say about racing the famously tough circuit.
*Defending Food City 500 winner Jimmie Johnson:
“Your comfort level has to be high at Bristol, which means the car has to be a little on the snug side – it’s a fine balance where you have an edgy car and you are comfortable enough to be the aggressor.
“It takes a lot out of you both mentally and physically. It’s the most physical track we run and having to stay sharp for four hours with guys banging on your bumper for 500 laps – it’s just tough.”
*The track’s six-time winner Kyle Busch – who swept all three NASCAR national races last August from the Camping World Truck Series to the Xfinity Series to the Monster Energy Cup Series:
“The way that tech goes and the way you have to tear down and having people looking at it from not very far away, they can see what you’re doing and, then again, they go to the tech center and they pull apart the shocks and they pull apart the bump stops and they basically give away to everybody else what you’re doing.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see seven in a row at a particular racetrack again, but I could be wrong. Deep down, I would like to say that I could do it, but I know that, even with the team I have and the crew and the talent and everything we’ve got going on with the Skittles car, that’s going to be hard to do.”
*Five-time Bristol winner, Kyle’s older brother Kurt Busch:
“The biggest key is knowing when to run hard and when not to run hard. If you try to run hard every single lap, you’re not going to make it. There are certain points in the race when you run hard and there are certain points when you’re not necessarily cruising, but just trying to maintain the right pace.
“You go hard, and then you save a little bit and then you go hard again because you saved a little bit. It’s a matter of applying it at the right time.”
This weekend marks the first opportunity for an Xfinity Series driver to earn the big $100,000 bonus payment as part of the popular Dash 4 Cash program.
The top-four finishing Xfinity Series regulars from last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway are competing in the opening round of the incentive program this Saturday afternoon. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 00 Ford), Daniel Hemric (Richard Childress Racing No. 21 Chevrolet) and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Ryan Preece (No. 18 Toyota) and Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota) are eligible as the highest finishing series regulars from last week at Texas.
The best finisher of those four qualified drivers at Bristol will receive a $100,000 prize. And the top four Xfinity Series regular finishers at Bristol will be then be eligible for the next Dash 4 Cash race, April 20 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. The program continues at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on April 28 and May 4 at Dover International Speedway.