Get Ready for Bristol

Bristol, August 2013Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Bristol, August 2013
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Another week … another Chase participant.

After seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick most likely drive their way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in subsequent weeks, Brad Keselowski decided it was his turn to cash in.
With Earnhardt’s fuel-strategy gamble that ultimately backfired, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was able to pass a slowing Earnhardt on the last lap to earn a ticket to Victory Lane … and possibly the postseason.
With a win in hand, expect Keselowksi to race all out at Bristol, where he’s already posted two victories, and during the remaining regular season races.
Earnhardt’s Daytona win has allowed him to go for broke at Phoenix and Vegas and has played a big factor in his consecutive runner-up finishes and his career-best season start. The win also led the popular driver and his crew chief to gamble with their fuel strategy.
Matt Kenseth finished a little further back in Vegas, in 10th. The finish itself wasn’t spectacular … until you look at the bigger picture. The top-10 finish was Kenseth’s was his 250th, becoming only the 22nd driver to accomplish the feat.
Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol provides Kenseth another great opportunity to add a top 10 to his resume. He already has 18 top-10 finishes at the .533-mile track.
One year ago at Bristol, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on a show for the ages as the veteran Busch and young gun Larson battled side-by-side over the last couple of laps for the lead. Busch ultimately won the showdown.
The two return to Bristol on Saturday for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 Presented by Lilly Diabetes. Will the two regale fans once again with an epic showdown or will two other worth competitors steal the spotlight?
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action at the end of March in Martinsville. Among the drivers scheduled to start the race are NASCAR Next members Jeb Burton, Ben Kennedy and Gray Gaulding, who will be making his first national series start. NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver Cole Custer will also make his national series debut.
Keselowski All But Clinches Postseason Spot
One year after becoming only the second driver in the Chase era to follow up a title campaign without a trip to the postseason, Brad Keselowski virtually grabbed a spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after winning Sunday’s race in Las Vegas. With the win under his belt, the driver of the No. 2 Ford can race all out the rest of the regular season, beginning with Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Keselowski has two victories in eight starts at the short track.
Earnhardt’s Epic Start Continues
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won since the Daytona 500, he’s done the next best thing – finished second in both races. That’s three top-two finishes in the first three races – a feat that’s only been accomplished six previous times. Richard Petty (1974), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Jimmie Johnson (2006) were all able to parlay their early-season success into titles. Prior to 2014, Earnhardt never led the standings for three consecutive weeks to open a season, which is his second longest streak. In 2004, he led for seven straight weeks, mid-season.
Kenseth Reaches Top-10 Milestone
With a 10th-place showing on Sunday at Las Vegas, Matt Kenseth notched his 250th top-10 finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, becoming the 22nd driver to do so. Kenseth has an opportunity to add to that list in this weekend in Bristol. In 28 starts at the .533-mile short track, the Wisc., driver has compiled 18 top 10s, including three wins. In last fall’s event, Kenseth held off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne over the last couple of laps to win by .188 seconds, providing fans with action-packed drama.
Kurt Busch & Stewart-Haas Racing Hope To Get On Track At Bristol
Outside of Kevin Harvick’s dominating victory at Phoenix, the entire four-car contingent from Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled in 2014. Harvick’s average finish is 18.3, best among the team’s drivers – Tony Stewart (28.0), Kurt Busch (28.7) and Danica Patrick (32.3). Busch is the most likely of the SHR drivers to shrug off the early-season doldrums at Bristol. He’s won at the short track five times, including three straight from March 2003 to March 2004. Stewart (2001) and Harvick (2005) have both won there, too.
Rookies Continue To Improve, Still Long Way To Go
Through three races, the eight drivers in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year class continue to perform. For the first time this season, two rookies finished in the top 20 on Sunday – Austin Dillon placed 16th, Kyle Larson 19th. Dillon leads Larson by eight in the rookie standings. Justin Allgaier, who finished 25th in Vegas and is third in the rookie standings (-nine), is the only rookie to have a national series win at Bristol, the site of Sunday’s Food City 500. He won the spring 2010 Nationwide race.
Former NNS Champions Continue To Shine In NSCS
What two things do Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have in common? The three drivers have already secured their spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and all are former NASCAR Nationwide Series champions. Earnhardt won the title in 1998 and 1999 followed by Harvick in 2001 and Keselowski in 2010.
One Year Later: Busch, Larson Battle At Bristol
Last year Bristol produced one of the best battles of the season – the tale of two Kyles. Rookie sensation Kyle Larson battled door-to-door with Kyle Busch for the victory in the closing laps of the spring event before the veteran captured the checkered flag. Larson’s runner-up showing was his first of an impressive nine top-five finishes en route to the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.
Bayne, McClure Head Home To East Tennessee
The next stop on the series provides a homecoming of sorts for Trevor Bayne and Eric McClure. Bayne – who won the pole for the fall NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol in 2012 – is three points behind Regan Smith in the standings. The Knoxville, Tenn., native has three top-10 finishes at the famed short track. McClure resides in nearby Chilhowie, Va.
Custer To Make First NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Start
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East regular Cole Custer will attempt to make his first start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, Mar. 29. He will arrive in Martinsville on a hot streak after winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event at Phoenix International Raceway on Feb. 27. In Phoenix, Custer edged truck series regular Brennan Newberry for his third series win. Last year, Custer picked up two NKNPSE wins (Iowa-2, New Hampshire). John Hunter Nemechek will make his first series start of the season at Martinsville.
NASCAR Next To Be Well-Represented At Martinsville
The current NASCAR Next class will have a strong showing in Martinsville when three of its members start the Kroger 250 at Martinsville. Leading the group will be Jeb Burton, who won the pole for this race last year. It will be Burton’s second start for ThorSport Racing. Gray Gaulding will make his first national series start driving for NTS Motorsports. Ben Kennedy will make his seventh career truck series start and his second at Martinsville. Last fall, Kennedy finished fourth at the .526-mile track.

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