Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Food City 500 at Bristol Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a visit to the Lone Star State, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to a short track with this weekend’s stop at Bristol Motor Speedway for the running of the Food City 500.

Bristol always brings out the excitement from fans and competitors alike as packing 40 cars into the half-mile high banked bullring can only be explained by the phrase “flying fighter jets in a gymnasium”, which is more accurate than it would seem. Drivers race two and sometimes three wide throughout the event and when trouble happens, it’s usually more than one car that is involved. By the end of the race, even the race winner will look like they have been in a demolition derby. It’s no wonder that Bristol is a fan favorite.

Though the outside groove has been the preferred lane over the last few seasons, Bristol polished the lower groove and applied a VHT-like substance to that section of the track a couple of years ago, which gave drivers another option of where to run. In every race since then, the track has employed the substance and likely will continue the trend this weekend.

Also new this weekend is the new aero package, which gets its first glimpse of the high-speed half-mile and has drivers and teams a bit on edge not knowing how things will play out with higher downforce on the already treacherous track.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1960

Track Size: 0.533 mile concrete oval (Turns banked 34 to 30 degrees; Straights banked 4 to 9 degrees)

Race Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage 1 and 2: 125 laps; Final stage: 250 laps

Pit Road Speed: 30 mph

Pace Car Speed: 35 mph

Aero Package: 750 horsepower, no aero ducts

April 2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started on pole, 117 laps led)

August 2018 Race Winner: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (Started ninth, 24 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (14.602 seconds, 131.407 mph – 8/19/2016)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Bristol:

  1. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 102.4
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.3
  3. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 100.7
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.9
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.7
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 92.2
  7. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 91.1
  8. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 90.9
  9. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.3
  10. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 86.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“The cars are going to be extremely fast,” said Brad Keselowski. “We’re going to have a very difficult car time keeping the tires on them.  The weather will make a big difference.  If it’s cool, it’ll be hard for the track to take rubber and we’ll probably see a lot of tire failures.  Just the cars are going to be so, so fast at Bristol, and to run 500 laps at those speeds, it’ll be kind of like World of Outlaws but a 500-lap race.

“Very, very fast, normal racetracks I think we pull two and a half to three G’s.  Bristol is always a step up.  With these rules I’m expecting it to be three and a half to four G’s, which is just going to completely rip your arms apart, and if you’re ripping your arms apart, you’re ripping your car apart at the same time.  The cars are kind of made to fit the drivers, so if the driver is getting worn out, the car is right there with it.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions and conversations about probably needing to build a special car for that race, but being that we’re in a spot where we’ve won two races, I don’t think we’ll probably do that.  I think we’ll just probably run the race and try to survive.  But it’ll be a big, big test for the teams and for the drivers, for Goodyear, because the pace should be somewhat outlandish.”

Last Year’s Results

Though the 2018 running of the Food City 500 got pushed to a Monday due to rain, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson still gave NASCAR nation another entertaining edition of the “Kyle and Kyle Show.”

Larson had led a race-high 200 laps and held the lead with five laps to go as he sought his first Bristol win, but Busch had other plans for that trip to victory lane. First give Larson a shove in the rear bumper in Turns 1-2, Busch completed the maneuver in Turns 3-4 by getting Larson out of shape enough to pass him for the lead.

From that point on, it was all Busch as he led the remaining circuits to score his second win of the season and seventh career win at Bristol.

“I was breathing hard there those last 20 laps, whatever it was,” Busch said. “That was a heck of a run right there with the 42 (Kyle Larson) – chasing him down, being able to get to him, being able to get by him and then trying to hold him off with some lap traffic ahead of us.

“I can’t say enough about this Skittles Toyota Camry. Adam Stevens (Crew chief) and my guys, they continue to impress and do an amazing job for me and give me great race cars week in and week out. We knew we were going to have a great long run car. We just had to get there and had to get some long runs.

“Actually the 42 was better than us right there before that last caution came out, so I don’t know what happen to ours, but we just got really really bad tire vibrations and just wasn’t able to run as hard as we wanted, but we got it. Came in, got them four tires put on it and man we were fast there at the end. We chased those guys back down.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 5

  • MENCS Practice (1:35 pm to 2:25 pm – No TV, Live-streamed on NASCAR.com)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:10 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, April 6

  • MENCS Practice (8:30 am to 9:25 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, April 7

  • MENCS Food City 500 at Bristol (2:00 pm – 500 laps, 266.5 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.