Race: Food City 500 Preview and Picks to Win
Date: Sunday March 16, 2014
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Time: 1 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
So not only is Dale Jr. on fire but so is Brad Keselowski and the Penske team! Congratulations to Keselowski on his win at Vegas. It may have been a fuel win, but nevertheless, it was a win! Dale Jr. ran out of gas with about of a lap to go, exactly what his crew calculated. Luckily for him, he had enough fuel and pickup to continue on to a second place finish. With that finish, Jr. still holds on the points lead, but Keselowski is now only 1 point behind. With have a really good mix of Roush, Penske, Hendrick, and Gibbs drivers right now in the top of the points. This weekend is sure to shake it up, though, as we head to everyone’s favorite short track, Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bristol is a track of strategy as well, but it is also more of a driver’s track. We all know that the cars in NASCAR Sprint Cup are a great equalizer these days, at least to a certain extent; however, there’s something about a short track that takes special skill. Typically, rookies struggle here. It’s unlike the super speedways where they can sometimes run with the rest of the pack and get lucky with a top 10 or 15 finish. Short tracks become crowded, with gaggles of cars, as Darrell Waltrip would say, just as super speedways. The problem is that the gaggle is basically across the whole track. No one can ever get away from the other driver. It’s a constant battle. There’s a lot of rubbin’ and grindin’ on this track. If a car comes away from Bristol without a donut on the door, most would say they the driver wasn’t doing it right. Honestly, Bristol is a track where some of the best racing in the world takes place.
What makes this track different than the other short tracks is the banking. Bristol has 36 degree banking in the turns and 16 degrees on the straights. Other tracks like Martinsville are typically pretty flat. The frontstretch and backstretch of this 0.533 mile oval are both a very short 650 feet. As you could imagine, this makes equipment failure a potential issue. Think about how hard braking occurs going into the turns here. Coming off 100+ miles and hour in the straights into the turns, these guys are pounding the brakes and are pretty relentless. It really tests the limits of these cars and the teams that put them together.
Now, when we take a look at potential winners this weekend, I’d be pretty stupid not to go with Keselowski. He has back to back wins here in 2011 and 2012. That being said, we can’t count out teammate Joey Logano who has a win here as well. One of the other biggest contenders, though, is Kyle Busch. He has multiple wins here and is always running up front. Busch either does really well or really poorly. The latter finish generally occurs because he is racing so hard and wrecks himself out somehow. I really do think that we may see a repeat of Keselowski in victory lane. Qualifying will really prove to be a factor too, as Penske seems to have these guys on point with qualifying and the new format this year. Switching gears a bit, one team I wouldn’t expect to dominate is actually the Hendrick garage. Although I expect Jr. to continue his streak of strong performances, I don’t think that he’s going to pull out the win. He isn’t the worst but he isn’t the best either when it comes to Bristol. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are always guys to watch, but I don’t think that they are going to come on as strong as Keselowski and Busch this weekend. Let’s take a look at the rundown of your potential winners:
My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Joey Logano
Dark Horse Prediction: Austin Dillon
Dillon is most likely going to struggle. Although he’s the best rookie in the field, rookies typically struggle in their first race at Bristol. Now, we have to give Dillon a little more credit because of his extensive history in Nationwide and other series. He may have just a slight advantage over other rookies. Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano is another respectable choice. He’s comfortable here and is proving to be a factor this year. Gibbs may have not been a good fit for him. On that note, let’s take a look at the standings.
Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Joey Logano
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Carl Edwards
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Denny Hamlin
9. Ryan Newman
10. Kyle Busch
11. Jamie McMurray
12. Greg Biffle
13. Austin Dillon
14. Kevin Harvick
15. Kasey Kahne
16. Rick Stenhouse Jr.
Look for Bristol to shake things up a bit. We are now getting into the meat and potatoes of the season. This is a great race and one where the drivers really shine and come into their own. We really get to see what they are capable of on tracks like this. Stay tuned for an awesome afternoon of short track racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.