The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Sharpie 500 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday August 24, 2006

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Race Trax: Sharpie 500

Amy Henderson · Thursday August 24, 2006


On Track
The Sharpie 500 is the twenty-fourth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. This is the second and final time the Nextel Cup Series will visit .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in 2006. Bristol has hosted the Nextel Cup Series regularly since 1961, and Jack Smith was the first driver to win in Cup competition at the track. The track is a high-banked concrete oval with 36 degrees of banking in the corners and straightaways measuring just 650 feet and banked at 16 degrees. Drivers will race 500 laps for 266.5 miles and the checkered flag. The entry list includes 2005 polesitter and race winner Matt Kenseth.

49 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner's points will determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes. Qualifying runs on an oval consist of two laps, the faster of the two determining the starting spot. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Bristol is 128.709 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 2003.

With just three races remaining before the Chase for the Nextel Cup begins, the point standings tightened up at the top and continued the weekly shuffle of third through tenth. Jimmie Johnson holds a 58-point advantage over Matt Kenseth after Kenseth's win at Michigan last week, and Johnson is assured of a berth in the Chase provided he starts the next three races. Kevin Harvick moved into third with another strong late-summer performance to back up his Watkins Glen victory. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart complete the top five. The biggest points loss of the week went to Jeff Burton, who slipped from third to ninth after an engine problem relegated him to a 43rd-place finish. Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. round out the top ten. Kasey Kahne is eleventh, just 49 points out, and Greg Biffle is in twelfth, also with a chance to capitalize if anyone makes a mistake in the next three weeks.

What To Expect
Racing on the bullring at Bristol is anything but tame. The high banks and tight quarters mean that when there is a spin, there is nowhere to go, and innocent bystanders will get caught up. This race could play a major spoiler to somebody's Chase hopes if they get caught in an early wreck.

It's a short track, it's a hot summer night…expect tempers to overheat. A bump and run for the win at Bristol is a common occurrence. So is retaliation if someone feels wronged-it may be in the form of a bumper, or it may be in the form of a frustrated gesture or hurled safety equipment. The record for caution periods at BMS is 20, and there’s always a possibility of a repeat performance. However, there can be long green-flag runs at Bristol, if the drivers are patient, so pit strategy will play a role.

Who to Watch
To find success at Bristol, you needn't look further than Jeff Gordon or Kurt Busch-they lead active drivers with five wins apiece. Gordon has also started inside the top ten for the last 26 races in a row at BMS (and he has 27 starts) and on the front row in seven of the last nine. Qualifying at BMS is important, and this puts Gordon ahead of the 8-ball.

Of course, Matt Kenseth is the defending race winner, and would like nothing better than to cut into Johnson's point lead at a track where Johnson historically hasn't been as strong. Greg Biffle has 3 straight top ten finishes at Bristol; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has six straight top 15's. Mark Martin leads all active drivers in top-ten finishes at BMS.

Did You Know:

  • The first driver on track in what is now the Nextel Cup Series at Bristol was Tiny Lund? Lund was first on track for the first official practice session when the track opened to the series in 1961.

  • That the August 1992 race was the first Cup race run entirely on a concrete surface?
  • That since Bruton Smith bought the track in 1996, the seating capacity has been more than doubled? When Smith bought BMS, it held 71,000 fans. Now it holds just over 160,000-and the waiting list for tickets is still five figures deep.

You Don't Say…
"Bristol can be crazy. I’ve always said it is like flying a jet fighter around the inside of a basketball arena, and try that with 42 other jets doing it at the same time. It can get really intense and it takes a great deal of patience by everyone. You just have to hope that you run well and that you can stay out of all the trouble, which isn’t always easy to do." Driver Mark Martin on racing at Bristol

"Depends if it's the last 10 laps or not (laughing). You try your best to be patient and keep the fenders clean during the race, because 500 laps is a long time at that place. But it's hard, man. It doesn't take much to lose your cool. I've lost it many times there. I've been the wrecker, the wreckee, and the innocent victim in other people's wrecks at Bristol, and your tolerance gets tapped out in all those situations. I think the only person that leaves Bristol happy is the winner. But then I think back to when Daddy wrecked Terry Labonte as Terry crossed the finish line to win the race, and he probably wasn't too happy either." Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on whether it's better to be patient or aggressive at Bristol

"I keep waiting to have a good finish at Bristol. It started out as a tough track for me, but now I just seem to find trouble during the race. Donnie and I both know that in order for me to finish in the top 10, I need to start up front. The speed has been there to run well and we've never had a problem of running competitive lap times in race trim. My problem has been qualifying. There's obviously a fast way of getting around Bristol during qualifying that I've struggled a little bit with in the past. It gets me back in the pack and we get caught up in things that really aren't our fault." Driver Casey Mears on BMS

“As you know this sport is very tough and without you it would have been even tougher. As of last week, we closed our doors and moved our sponsorship to the Petty organization, for whom we have great respect. With that said, we are selling our entire inventory at reduced rates. If you know anyone interested in a Nextel Cup Starter Kit (at least we still have humor), please direct them to my phone number or email address." press release from Competitive Edge Motorsports, who announced their team closing recently

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Contact Amy Henderson

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