The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Food City 500 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 23, 2006

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Race Trax: Food City 500

Amy Henderson · Thursday March 23, 2006

 

On Track
The Food City 500 is the fifth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Busch Series will visit the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway twice in 2006-they’ll return to run under the lights in late August. Bristol has hosted two Busch Series races each year since 1992; however, this is the first time the series will race for 300 laps. The track is a high-banked concrete true oval track with 36 degrees of banking in the corners and 16 degrees on the short (650 feet) straightaways. Drivers will race 500 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 polesitter Elliott Sadler and race winner Kevin Harvick.

49 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Bristol is 128.709 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 203.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is just beginning take shape in 2006. Current point leader had his worst finish of the season so far at Atlanta-he finished sixth- but holds a lead of only 50 points over Kasey Kahne, who moved up a spot following his rain""delayed Atlanta win. Consistent Matt Kenseth is third, followed by Mark Martin and Casey Mears rounding out the top five.

What To Expect
Bristol is one of the hardest tickets to get in any sport-season ticket waiting lists are decades long. The reason for this is old-school door-to-door racing, with tempers and retaliation thrown into the mix. Although Elliott Sadler won her last year largely by pit strategy, don’t expect this to be the standard-green flag pit stops do happen, but not very often.

The majority of cars without mechanical problems do finish at Bristol, but a lot of them won’t look like the sleek and shiny machines that started the race. Keeping a car clean all day is a good way to procure a top finish-or an indicator that the car had mechanical problems. Cars spread out to take up the whole track very quickly, so there is always traffic for the leaders to contend with. The winner at Bristol is often determined by a well-timed bump-and-run-or an outright shove.

Who to Watch
With all the things that can happen at Bristol, it’s hard to pick an overwhelming favorite. Kevin Harvick would love to defend his win, and Kurt Busch has been a threat in most recent races here. Elliott Sadler has won here in a Busch car as well as in his Nextel Cup ride. Both Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have Bristol wins, and both are having resurgent seasons following 2005’s disappointment. Among active drivers, Gordon’s five wins at BMS are tops, just ahead of Busch’s four. The only other driver in the field who can boast multiple wins at Bristol is Mark Martin. This year’s rookie class includes a Bristol Busch Series winner, Martin Truex, Jr.

Did You Know:
-That the winningest driver ever at Bristol will be there this weekend, but will not race? Darrell Waltrip has an even dozen Bristol trophies, but he’ll be in the broadcast booth for this one.

-That Cale Yarborough once led all 500 laps en route to a Bristol victory in the spring race of 1973?

-That a 500-lap race at Bristol once ran with zero caution flags? That’s right-no crashes at Bristol. It happened in 1971 in the spring race. Not so coincidentally, the most cautions in a race is 20-and all three times that happened were in the night race"¦

You Don’t Say"¦
"Well, there are some teams out here that don’t seem to have a problem with it. The thing about Bristol is you can be really good but still caught up in a wreck. That’s probably the main concern. Even if you’re the leader, it’s hard to miss wrecks sometimes because of all the lapped traffic. That’s just Bristol. You can’t take a break at any time. The moment you think you’re doing good, it’ll jump up and deal you a nasty blow. (The craziest moment at Bristol?) I don’t know, they all seem crazy to me. Obviously my favorite moment was when we won there. My first time there in the Cup Series was kind of crazy. I was in a wreck on the very first lap, and then wrecked again later in the race. I couldn’t buy a break that day. It was really frustrating. But some of the craziest moments don’t involve me, but I get just as much enjoyment as the fans do watching them unfold. Bristol is just a crazy place."- driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Bristol

"When you sit in the race car, you’ve only got a steering wheel and a couple pedals. You do your same stuff everywhere, and you relate to your crew chief about what you need. So, it’s really not that hard especially for the driver. Now, it’s a lot harder for the crew chief because he’s got all the new people that he works with every single day, but in the car it’s not that hard." ""driver Ken Schrader on settling in with a new race team.

"It wasn’t pretty. As a matter of fact, it was downright ugly. The first time I crashed that day, it was on my on. The second time I wrecked, I was in a big pileup. I guess you could say that the third time was the charm, in that we punctured the radiator in that crash. That put us out for good. They just kept on fixing it and putting me back out there to get track time. When we were finally done for the day, I looked up on the board and there were still about 400 laps of racing left. They didn’t have the tunnel down in the third turn at the time, so I was forced to sit there and watch all the others go at it for another three hours. I promised myself that day a situation like that would never happen again. It became a necessity in my mind to become a good racer at Bristol. "Seriously, I think that good racing luck has had a little to do with it, too. I was able to develop a real positive attitude about racing at Bristol and I enter the Bristol race week really looking forward to racing there. I looked at guys like Darrell and Rusty and saw just how much they genuinely enjoyed each and every time the circuit raced at Bristol. I have really grown to like Bristol so much that I’m pretty quick to name it as my favorite track of them all when I’m asked." ""driver Kurt Busch on his introduction to Bristol and his later success there

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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