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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Irwin Tools Night Race: By the Numbers...and Beyond

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.

How about Kyle Busch? Last week at Michigan Kyle scraped the wall late in the race and finished 18th in the number 18 car after starting 18th....interesting. He swept Bristol Cup Series Racing in 2009 and finished in ninth position in the Spring of this season. Kyle Busch also won the first race at Bristol in the Car of Tomorrow, in 2007. Kyle sits in the eighth position in Cup Points and needs to perform well this weekend to further secure his spot in the Chase. His brother Kurt proved last week how easy it is to lose six spots in the standings in just one race.

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?

Tony Stewart is up for discussion next; Tony is coming back to Bristol after finishing in the runner-up position in the Food City 500 in March. Tony is hanging tough in 4th spot in the standings, and coming off of a 6th place finish last week at Michigan is ready to further solidify his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 300 points ahead of 13th place in the standings, Stewart can go for broke in Thunder Valley and race for the win. He might just get it at the end of the 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.

Bowyer has never won at Thunder Valley and has just one short track win. Mark has two previous wins at Bristol and 23 top tens; his average finish shows to be 12.7. With 13 top ten finishes at short tracks in Bowyer's Cup Career there is a good chance that desire to stay in the top twelve will help Clint gain another top ten to add to his stats. Martin needs to have a top ten finish to stay within reach of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With just three races to go it's do-or-die time for the number five driver.

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.

Kevin Harvick cannot be forgotten as we go into Bristol. The Points leader by 293 points, Harvick has guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has won at Bristol before and coming off of a win at Michigan, anything is possible. An average finish at Bristol of 12.2, and an average of 14.1 on short-track racing shows that it won't be a cake walk for Harvick to come in and post a top ten under the light this weekend but I fully expect to see Kevin in the top five by night's end.

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.

Don't miss the always great racing from Thunder Valley this weekend. NASCAR fans can watch practice on SPEED at Noon and 2:30 p.m. EST on Friday, Qualifications on ESPN Friday at 5:30 p.m. EST, and the Saturday Night Bristol Motor Speedway Irwin Tools Night Race on ABC Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

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