The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be back to short track tracing this week at Bristol. This is one of the best races of the season IMO. The Food City 500 can been seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Goodyear brought a new set of tires to Bristol. They will be used in both the Xfinity and MENCS races. These tires have not been tested, but Goodyear said the reason for the change was so the tire would match up with the traction compound on the racing surface. Teams will get 3 sets of tires for the 3 practices, 1 set for qualifying and 9 sets for the race.
NASCR will add the PJ1 Traction Compound to the track this week. They added it to the races at Bristol last year and it really helped the lower groove come in. It should help improve the racing again Sunday.
Bristol is a unique track. The speed a driver has at other tracks does not translate into speed at Bristol. We need to focus on past performance at Bristol for the race this week.
* There will be a pre-race inspection Sunday morning. Any car who fails will start from the rear and be scored in Fantasy NASCAR from their qualifying position. The only cars in jeopardy of failing are Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson since they hit the wall and his backend in damaged.
Chase Elliott: Elliott won the pole for the race Sunday and that is a HUGE advantage. The last 6 pole winners at Bristol have averaged 150 laps led and a 3rd-place finish. Elliott led 112 laps in the last race in Thunder Valley so he knows how to keep the car up front. Elliott told his team, “It starts off loose and builds tight with every 10 laps.” Alan Gustafson told him, “We can make an air-pressure adjustment to help it at the start.” Elliott scraped the wall in final practice. It was just cosmetic damage.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson will have momentum after his top-5 finish at Texas. He has been one of the most consistent drivers at Bristol. He has a 7th-place average finishing position at the track since 2014, including a win in 2017. Johnson told his team, “The bottom is working good. Need a little rear grip when I get up the track. I can manage it though.” After his final lap Johnson said, “I have a real good rhythm going. I feel pretty good. How are my lap times?” The team replied, “P11.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman worked with Jeff Gordon in the simulator to figure out how to run at Bristol. It worked. Bowman finished 5th in the spring and 8th in the fall in Thunder Valley. Bowman did not like the way his car was set up in the morning practice. They changed everything but the driver between the 2 practices. They put the No. 48 setup in the car. Bowman said, “When I dive into the corner it is too tight and when it takes off on exit it is too loose. I have no confidence when I turn the wheel.”
William Byron: Rookies typically struggle at Bristol and that was the case for Byron in 2018. He finished 18th in the spring and 23rd in the fall. He should show some improvement now that he has some experience at the track. Byron was complaining his car was way too tight. He slid up the track a couple of times. Chad Knaus told him, “Just work on hitting your marks. You lap times are decent. Just get your rhythm.” Byron ran 100 laps in both practice sessions.
Kyle Larson: Larson has been the best driver in the spring races at Bristol. He won the pole, led 202 laps and finished 6th in 2017. Last year he qualified 6th, led 200 laps and finished 2nd. Larson told his team, “The load into the corner is good. Just a little tight off of 4 but not bad. Not sure where we are on speed?” The team told him, “You are P14. We will add some speed to it.” Larson told his team, “The car will not run at all at the bottom now so I am just going to work in the top groove.” Larson made a 60 lap run at the top so his lap times may be a bit misleading. Larson scraped the with with 10 minutes left in practice. It was just cosmetic damage.
Kurt Busch: Busch won the last race at Bristol and he has the 2nd most wins at the track (6 wins. 1 behind his brother, Kyle). Busch has a 7th-place average finishing position since Daytona, so he has a lot of momentum this week. He qualified deep in the field because his car did not stick in the traction compound. Busch said, “The car is too tight on entry and the backend end steps on the exit. It is like the rear tires are not in the track at all.” The team made major changes between the practice sessions. Busch was still unhappy with the car at the end of practice. He said, “We have a really good drag racing car because she will fly down the front and back stretches, but it will not turn at all into the corners. I almost have to get into the brakes to get it to turn.”
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has consistently finished in the top 10 at Bristol but he has not dominated a race in Thunder Valley since 2016. Harvick has only led 22 laps in the last 4 races but he has a 7th-place average finishing position. Harvick told Rodney Childers, “When I get all 4 tires in the sticky stuffs it gets loose. It is real good when I only get the left sides in it.” The No. 4 team worked on their long run speed and they really liked their car. At the end of practice Rodney Chiders told Harvick, “You have the fastest car on the track.”
Clint Bowyer: Bristol ranks as the 4th-best track for Bowyer but he has never been to Victory Lane in Thunder Valley. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Bowyer has an 8th-place average finishing position at Bristol. Bowyer likes his car. He said, “This 14 car is bad fast boys. Damn this place is fun when you have a good car.” He was P8 at the time. Bowyer also had a very fast car on the long runs.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez enters the race this week after back-to-back top-10 finishes. His average finishing position in his 4 races at Bristol is 15th. He should be slightly better than that this week. Suarez made some long runs and said, “I cannot say anything negative about it. It is better on the new tires then on the scuffs.” The No. 41 team worked with the No. 14 team on their setups this week so the two cars should be comparable.
Aric Almirola: Almirola said after the Texas race, “I am excited to get to Bristol. It is my favorite track.” His results show otherwise. Almirola has a 21.8 average finishing position at Bristol but he did finish 6th in this race last year while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola told his team in the morning practice, “All of the speed we had in qualifying is gone. The car is too tight now.” They made some big adjustments on the car.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski always has a fast car at Bristol but he has a hard time bringing it home in one piece. Last year Keselowski led 67 laps but finished 23rd. His average finishing position in his last 6 races at Bristol is 25.5. Keselowski did not like his car in the morning practice. He said it was way too tight. The team made major changes before the final practice. Keselowski made some long runs on new tires and said, “This is a lot better Paul. The entry and exit feels snugger.”
Joey Logano: Bristol ranks as the 6th best track for Logano. He won the races in Thunder Valley in 2014 and 2015. Last year he finished 9th in the spring and 4th in the fall. Logano made some long runs and the team told him, “Your car is good on the short run. We will build some long run speed into it.”He was P3 at the time. At the end of practice Logano made a long run and he said, “I would not touch it. It is pretty racy.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney had one of the fastest cars in both races at Bristol last year. He led 100 laps in the spring but got caught up in an accident and he led 121 laps in the fall and finished 10th. Blaney told Fox Sports, “The car is just as good in race trim as it was in q-trim. We just need to be able to run the bottom a little better, but it is close to where we need it to be.”
Kyle Busch: Busch has been hit or miss at Bristol. He has finished 20th, 1st, 1st, 35th, 39th, 38th, 8thand 38th in his last 8 races at the track. He is either going to win Sunday or finish near the rear of the field. Busch told Adam Stevens, “Way F******* loose. Whatever you can do to tighten it up, I need it…All of it!!” He was P4 at the time..LOL. The No. 18 team made some adjustments and sent Kyle back out. He said, “We are getting closer.” He was still P4.
Erik Jones: Jones has competed in 4 races in the MENCS at Bristol. He finished 2 of them in the top 5. In 2017 he won the pole, led 260 laps and finished 2nd. Jones knows how to race this track if his car is fast. Jones really liked his car. He said, “I think I can beat a lot of cars at the bottom. The car really rotates well.” Jones had the fastest car in the morning practice.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is off to a great start in 2019. He has 2 wins and 6 finishes in the top 10. Last year he finished 14th in both races at Bristol but Hamlin is running a lot better in 2019 than he was in 2018. Hamlin made some long runs and said, “The car is good everywhere except the bump getting into turn 1. It bounces up the track when I hit it. Overall it feels good.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex said after the race at Texas, “I am not looking forward to the race at Bristol. It just has not been a very good track for me.” Last year Truex crashed out of both races and finished 30th in both. His average finishing position at the track since 2013 is 24th. The switch to Joe Gibbs Racing must have really helped him. Truex said, “This is probably the best car we have had here in a long time.”
Matt DiBendetto: DiBenedetto is a driver we need to watch this weekend. He finished 6th at Bristol while driving for BK Racing. He should be faster with a Joe Gibbs Racing chassis, TRD engine and Mike Wheeler on top of the pit box. The No. 95 team said they worked with the Joe Gibbs Racing cars for their setup. DiBenedetto liked his car. He said, “It is fast. It likes the bottom more than top but I can make both ends work.” He was P10 at the time.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his first start at Bristol in the MENCS. He does have 4 starts at the track in the Xfinity Series. Hemric finished 3 of the 4 races in the top 10 in the Xfinity Series.
Austin Dillon: Dillon is running well this season but he only has 1 finish in the top 10 to show for it. Last year he finished 15th in the spring race and 13th in the fall at Bristol. He should finish slightly ahead of that Sunday. Austin was complaining his car was too tight in the middle and on exit. After his final run Austin said, “It is still too tight.”
Ty Dillon: Germain Racing moved their shop to Welcome, North Carolina to be closer to Richard Childress Racing. Dillon has seen a slight improvement this season because of the move. His average finishing position at Bristol is 25th so he will likely only finish a few spots better this week. Ty told his team, “The changes you made are going in the right direction but the car still builds tight through the run.”
Ryan Preece: Preece grew up racing the modify cars on the short tracks. That should translate into success Sunday. Preece won the Xfinity Series race at Bristol last year. I expect him to be a good sleeper pick this week. Preece was complaining his car was way too tight in the center and off the corner. It was better on entry of the corner though. They were working to make it better and Preece said, “Still losing grip.” Preece had a lot of smoke coming from his car at the end of practice. He had a bad tire rub.
Chris Buescher: Buscher has competed in 7 MENCS races at Bristol and he has not had much success. Buscher has a 23.3 average starting position and a 24.6 average finishing position at the track. Buescher told his team, “You are really going to have to remind me where to get onto pit road. It is really easy to get lost out here.” His car was too tight in and out of the corners. Most of his lap times where outside the top 20.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Bristol is one of the best tracks for Stenhouse. Last year he qualified 4th and finished 4th in this race. He has finished 3 of the last 5 races in Thunder Valley in the top 5. The No. 17 team was working on their long run speed. Stenhouse made a 70 lap run in the morning practice. He was really trying to work in the top groove so his lap times may be a bit misleading.
Ryan Newman: Bristol ranks as the 2nd-best track for Newman (behind Indianapolis). Newman has never won at the track but he does have 18 finishes in the top 10. Last year Newman finished 10th in the spring and 12th in the fall. It will be interesting to see how well he runs in a Ford at the track. Newman joined his teammate (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) at the top of the track, trying to work in the top groove. He said, “Little tight off center.” He was P16 at the time. They made some adjustments and Newman said, “It is connected at both ends now. Much better.” He went to P5 on the speed chart.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Clint Bowyer
Good Sleeper Picks: Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Matt DiBenedetto
Click here for the Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Afternoon Practice Results
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice Results
Final Practice Speeds
* 10-Lap Average Speed
Best 15, 20 and 30 Lap Average Speeds
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