The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Bristol Motor Speedway this week. NASCAR is back to their regular schedule this week. There was one practice Friday afternoon, qualifying Friday evening and two practices Saturday. The MENCS teams had plenty of time to get their cars dialed in for the race Sunday.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Bristol…
The weather for the final practice Saturday was partly cloudy and 75 degrees. The forecast for Sunday is not good. There is a 90% chance of rain so the MENCS will need a lot of luck to get the race in. Monday’s forecast is for rain in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. Whenever they do race, the track conditions will be much different.
Bristol Motor Speedway added the traction compound to the bottom of the track to try and improve the racing this weekend. The forecast is not looking good for the race Sunday but I was told the traction compound should not completely wash off the track.
Landon Cassill and Austin Dillon had to serve a 15-minute penalty in final practice for failing inspection Friday.
Chase Elliott: The No. 9 team will be without their crew chief this week because of penalties from the Texas race. Kenny Frances will serve as the interim crew chief. Elliott went out and made some long runs. The car was too tight in the morning practice. The car got better with each change though. Elliott said, “We need to keep going in the direction we are going. It is getting better.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson won this race last year and he has the best average finish at Bristol since the beginning of 2014. Johnson cut a tire in qualifying Friday so the team will change the tire and start from the rear Sunday. The team completely changed the entire setup between the two practice sessions. The changes helped and Johnson ran 10th in final practice.
Alex Bowman: Bowman has competed in 4 MENCS races at Bristol and he has never finished inside the top 20. He also has never driven the No. 88 car at Bristol. Bowman had a hard time moving around the track. He said, “The car is decent in the black but when we get to the middle or the top I lose the backend.” At the end of practice Bowman said, “It is just too inconsistent. Sometimes it is tight and then it gets loose and then tight again. I just do not know what to tell ya to help it.”
William Byron: Byron has never competed in a MENCS race at Bristol but he has 2 races in the Xfinity Series on his resume. He finished 12th and 22nd in those races and the competition will be much tougher this week. Byron seemed pretty happy with his car. He said, “A little bit free in and a little tight in the center, but it is drivable. If the groove moves up it will really help me.”
Kyle Larson: The No. 42 car was the most dominant car at Bristol last year. Larson started on the pole in both races, led 202 laps in the spring race and 70 laps in the fall race and he finished both races in the top 10. Larson went out and made a lot of long runs. His goal was to lay some rubber at the top of the track to make another groove to race in. His car is very fast and he is happy with it. Larson said, “It is loose in and off but I would not change anything. It tightens up with each lap.” Larson looks like one of the drivers to beat Sunday.
Jamie McMurray: Bristol ranks as the 6th-best track for McMurray. He has finished the last 7 races at Bristol in the top 13. He finished 12th in both races last year. McMurray is the complete opposite from his teammate. His car was sliding all over the track. He almost hit the wall a couple of times. The car did have decent long run speed though.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has a series-best driver ranking (130.1) and a series-best average finishing position (4.7) in the last 4 races at Bristol. The No. 4 car is also one of the best cars this season. Harvick blew a tire in Friday’s practice and hit the wall hard. They will go to a backup car and start from the rear Sunday. This is the first time Harvick has ever had to go to a backup car in his 4 years with Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick was pissed about the car. He said, “It is a F***** piece of Sh**. I can barely drive it.” I am sure they will get it fixed up before the race.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer won the last race at a short track (Martinsville) and he could win again this week. Bowyer finished 2nd in this race last year. Bowyer was surprisingly quiet on the radio in final practice. He made a lot of long runs and the car ran between 10th and 14th on most of the runs. The team was working on their long run speed.
Kurt Busch: Stewart-Haas Racing really wants to get all four cars into the playoffs. I was told SHR gave Busch the best car they have this week to make him the nest SHR driver in Victory Lane. Busch has 5 wins at Bristol (Only his brother has more). Busch hit the wall at the need of Final Practice. The No. 41 team will go to a backup car and start at the back Sunday which completely eliminates him from Fantasy NASCAR consideration this week since he will be scored from the No. 2 position.
Aric Almirola: Almirola said after the Atlanta race that he is very excited about the cars he is driving this season. A reporter asked him, “Where do you think you can win?” Almirola responded, “Bristol for sure.” He finished 3rd at Bristol in 2014 in a lot slower car. Tony Gibson will serve as crew chief for the No. 10 car because John Klausmier is at home with his wife while she gives birth to their baby. The No. 10 team put the same setup as the No. 41 car after qualifying. Almirola ran in the top 10 in both practices. He is a great sleeper pick this week.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has an average finishing position of 33rd in the last 3 races at Bristol. It is not that Keselowski does not run well, he just has a hard time avoiding the wrecks. Keselowski was 20 minutes late to practice Friday. I read the schedule wrong but he was 4th fastest after his 1st run. Keselowski was complaining the car was way too loose. Paul Wolfe told him, “The track will come to use. Just be patient.”
Joey Logano: Logano has the 4th best average finishing position in the last 4 races at Bristol. He also has 2 wins at the track since 2014. Logano was one of the only drivers who spent all three practice sessions in race trim. There worked paid off because Logano was happy with the car. Logano made a long run and said, “The balance is really good. It is a little snug getting off the corner but it gets better with each lap.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney was not very good at Bristol until the track decided to add the track compound at the bottom of the track. Blaney is very good at running the bottom. Blaney said the car is “Loose in and tight off. It is kind of all over the place, but it does have pretty good speed.”
Paul Menard: Menard finished 16th in both races at Bristol last year. He should be faster with his new team Sunday. Menard is driving the same car that Ryan Blaney drove to a 10th-place finish at Bristol last year. The car has top 20 speed. They spent a lot of time between practices changes shocks to help the car get into the track better. Menard spent a lot of time looking at the Team Penske driver’s lane around the track to try and figure out where he can pick up some speed.
Kyle Busch: Busch is the ultimate boom or bust driver this week. He won the last race at Bristol but wrecked in the previous 3. This will be one of the first times when Busch is not competing in the Xfinity Series race before the MENCS Sunday. Busch won the pole for the race Sunday and he is one of the drivers to beat. His car was good in all practice sessions.
Erik Jones: Jones was the best driver in the last race at Bristol. He qualified on the pole, led 260 laps and finished 2nd. Jones also has 2 wins at Bristol in the Xfinity Series. Jones was really good in Friday’s practice and then the car was too tight in the Saturday practices. The No. 20 team made a lot of changes to the car and Jones thought the car was better. He ran between 10th – 13th in the final practice.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been one of the most consistent drivers at Bristol. He has finished 3 of the last 5 races at the track in 3rd place. Hamlin was not happy in practice. He made many long runs and Hamlin said on the radio, “Stop taking wedge out. Damn! Every time you take wedge out it kills it. I am way too loose on entry and it has lost all of its speed.” He was 23rd fastest at the time. The team made major adjustments on the car and Hamlin said, “Much better. The car has a lot more stability now.” Hamlin went up to 3rd on the speed chart.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez will be racing this week with a broken thumb. This is the toughest race on the circuit on the drivers so Suarez could have a tough time Sunday. In the media center Friday Suarez said he is concerned about the race Sunday. “I can run the car in practice and making a qualifying lap was not an issue, but I am worried about how my hand will feel after 500 laps. It is already sore”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex ran very well in this race last year He qualified 3rd, led 116 laps and finished 8th. His best finish at Bristol is 2nd. Truex said in the Media Center Friday that he was caught in traffic in qualifying and that is the reason he will start 26th. Truex was happy with the car. He made some long runs and said, “Not bad, not bad. A little tight in 1 and 2 but we are gaining in 3 and 4.”
Ryan Newman: Bristol ranks as the 10th-best track for Newman. He usually runs between 7th and 15th. Newman made a long run and said, “Too tight rolling through the center and too loose on the bottom.” The No. 31 team was having problems with their brake rotors in the morning practice. They changed the brakes between to two sessions Saturday. In final practice Newman said, “The front end bounces all over the place and ruins the entire run.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has not been very good at Bristol in his career. Bristol ranks as his 20th best track. Dillon did have a 4th-place finish at the track in 2016, so there is hope for the No. 3 team. The No. 3 team was penalized 15 minutes in both practices Saturday for failing inspection. Dillon made a long run and said, “Decent off of Turns 1 & 2, good in 3 and a little loose in 4.” Dillon was 14th fastest at the time. At the end of final practice Dillon said, “We hit on something with this setup.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon is coming off his best race of the year at Texas and the team said they hit on something during the off week. Dillon has been hit or miss at Bristol. He finished 15th and 36th in the races last year. Dillon did not look good at all in practice. The car was way too loose. Dillon ran outside the top 30 in practice.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne has not finished inside the top 12 at Bristol since 2014 (8 races). If he cannot do it in a Hendrick Motorsports Car, I doubt Kahne will score a top 10 while driving for Leavine Family Racing. Kahne was fighting a loose racecar. He said, “It starts the run with a good balance but it gets freer with every lap. After 20 laps it is hard to hold onto.” They brought him in to make some adjustments.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has an average finishing position of 22nd at Bristol since he began racing for JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger lost the backend of the car in Friday’s practice and kissed the wall. The team will go to a backup car and start from the back Sunday. The backup car was just OK. He said, “It turns in the corner good but I lose all forward driver on the exit.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher was not very good at Bristol last year. He finished 39th and 27th, but he was able to finish 5th in this race in 2016. Buescher was not happy with his car. He said the balance was off. It was too free into the corners. They made a long run and Buescher was 12th fastest. They made some changes to the car and Buescher said, “We need to put it back the way it was. We went in the wrong direction.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: After a 2nd-place finish in the Daytona 500 the No. 43 team went into a serious slump. The team said they found some speed over the off week and it should at Texas. Wallace finished in the top 10 and will look to build upon that momentum at Bristol. Wallace was really loose in practice and you did not need to hear him on the radio to know that. The back end of the car was snapping out on every lap and Wallace was pushed up the track on a couple of his runs.
Trevor Bayne: Bristol is the home track for Bayne and he usually runs well here. Bayne has the second-best average finishing position (8.75) in the last 4 races at Bristol. Bayne has the same setup as Stenhouse but he is not able to get the same speed out of his car. He was not bad though. Most of the lap times for Bayne were in the top 20 and he starts outside the top 30. He should score a lot of position differential points this week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: is a great pick this week. Bristol is his best track. Stenhouse has an 8.3 average finishing position in the last 3 races at Bristol. Stenhouse loved his car in practice. He was working on moving around the track to work in some more race grooves. In final practice he waited for the No. 18 car to go out and Stenhouse followed him to try and pick up where the No. 18 car was beating him. It was more about “fine tuning” then anything else in practice for the No. 17 team.
David Ragan: Ragan has been a decent cheap DFS driver at Bristol. He is averaging 9.3 position differential points per race at Bristol since 2015. Ragan was really happy with his car. He said, “The front end is pinned down just how I like it. The back wiggles a little but it does not hurt my throttle.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell has been a good cheap driver in salary cap games at Bristol. He finished 2 of his last 3 races at the track 20th or better. McDowell has happy with his car. The team found a setup that worked perfectly in the morning practice and spent the final practice experimenting with some different setups.
Matt Dibenedetto: Bristol is the best track for Dibendetto. His average finishing position in the last 4 races at Bristol is 17th. Not too bad for a cheap driver in salary cap games. Dibenedetto made a lot of long runs to dial in the car. He said, “Just a little tight in the center, the entry and exit are really good.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Jones
Good Sleeper Picks: Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Michael McDowell
Click here for the Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 15-Lap Average Speed
- Kyle Busch 15.32
- Chase Elliott 15.36
- Kurt Busch 15.40
- Brad Keselowski 15.41
- Michael McDowell 15.41
- Clint Bowyer 15.41
- David Ragan 15.48
- Aric Almirola 15.49
- Erik Jones 15.49
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 15.50
* Kyle Larson is not on the list because he focused on working in a high groove. Larson was 2nd-fastest on the 15-lap speed chart in the morning practice though.
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