Bristol. Thunder Valley. Short-track racing at it's best in many NASCAR fans' minds. I know it's my favorite. Bristol had long since been on my bucket list; I finally made it to the Spring race this year. I loved being able to see action on the track from my seats no matter which turn or side of the track. Which driver will come out of Saturday night with the fondest memories that include a win at Thunder Valley?
Jimmie Johnson won in the Spring and has had both successes and struggles at Bristol. 2009 was a good year for Johnson, who finished eighth in the August race and third in the Spring. Prior to 2009 Jimmie had struggled at Bristol with finishes of 33rd and 18th in 2008 and 21st and 16th in 2007. Maybe Johnson got this half mile track figured out and can end up on top on Saturday night. He should at least secure a solid top ten finish. Johnson has brought in four top five finishes and nine top tens at Bristol.
Kurt Busch is a driver who has seen many a good time at Bristol. The spring race got Kurt 10 bonus points for leading the most laps when he finished third. Out of Kurt Busch's seven short track Cup Series wins five have come at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kurt has also finished in the top ten 11 times at Thunder Valley. Coming off a DNF at Michigan for engine failure, he needs to finish strong to improve his now 10th place standings in the points. Chances are Kurt will be near the front again as the laps wind down under the lights this weekend.
Carl Edwards is another driver I will be watching this weekend to perform strongly. After racing through the field to finish third in last weekend's Carfax 400 at Michigan, Carl said he is happy where they stand in Series Points. The third place finish moved Edwards up three spots in the standings, 266 in front of 13th. Edwards has won two of the last three Fall races at Thunder Valley and finished 6th in this year's Spring race. Carl has two previous wins and five top tens at Bristol in Cup Series Racing; can he win again on Saturday night?
Jeff Gordon can claim five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, and an additional 15 top tens. Jeff finished a disappointing 14th in the Spring race and is coming off of a 27th place finish at Michigan. Gordon is second in the points standings right now and has enough of a cushion that you can bet he will be coming in looking to break his winless streak and share season spilt honors at Bristol with teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Neither Clint Bowyer nor Mark Martin did well at Bristol in the Spring but have everything riding on the Irwin Tools Night Race. Mark finished 35th to Clint's 40th in March and is sitting 45 points behind Bowyer in the 13th spot in the Series Points Standings. Clint has better momentum coming into this race however; Mark finished 28th last week to Bowyer's 13th place run.
Denny Hamlin was a big mover last week, gaining three positions in the Race to the Chase. He now resides in the third spot in the Points and has no desire to give up that position. With five top tens at Bristol and an overall average finish of 9.2 on short-track racing it may be time for Denny to get his first win in Thunder Valley. Coming off of a second place finish at Michigan he may have been close enough to victory last week to want it the most on Saturday night.
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. Top three prediction is Denny Hamlin with the win followed by Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards will round out the top five. I also expect Greg Biffle to be just outside the top ten, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to continue his late season fade, and will predict a wreck involving Juan Pablo Montoya late in the race. Maybe we will see Ryan Newman and Joey Logano continue what was started at Michigan? Short-track racing does tend to bring out the tempers.
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