The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: Bristol Brings Season's Largest Entry List - Why? by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday August 23, 2013

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On Thursday morning (Aug. 22), part-time NASCAR driver Carl Long announced he would be piloting Rick Ware Racing’s No. 15 in this weekend’s Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway in what would be his eighth start of the season — that is, if he even makes it in the race.

On Facebook, Long was candid about his chances for qualifying the No. 15, which has not attempted every race this Nationwide Series season and therefore must get in on qualifying speed, saying that the event “may be the toughest race to make in nationwide [sic] all year.”

Part-timer Carl Long is among the drivers hoping to make the field for the Nationwide race Friday night.

At press time, it appears he’s absolutely right.

The August Bristol weekend has long been one with high intrigue given its exciting past that includes feisty, hotly-contested short track racing that often ends in tempers flared. As such, it’s a weekend at which a driver has a chance to become very, very visible, especially considering that it’s a shorter track, meaning keeping up with the sport’s elite isn’t as hopeless as, say, a mile-and-a-half.

When the Camping World Truck Series entry list for Wednesday night’s race dropped, the number of teams planning to attempt the race ran as high as 40, though it eventually dropped to 38 by the time the trucks were on the track. That was still the first time the final entry list jumped above 36, meaning that, not counting Eldora’s shortened field, it was the first time entrants in the race could potentially fail to qualify since Charlotte back in May.

Later in the day on Monday, the Nationwide Series entry list was released. That’s where things got really interesting.

The preliminary list showed 49 different teams that planned to make it out to Bristol for the race — a nine-car surplus. Of course, a 49-car field meant that go-or-go-home drivers would have to beat nine fellow cars to make the show at Bristol, rather than the usual one or two.

As of Thursday morning, that number has dropped to 48, with The Motorsports Group’s No. 47 start-and-park machine withdrawing. Even still, eight cars going home would be huge. In fact, it’d be the most since Richmond earlier this season, when six drivers failed to qualify.

Why’s the list so big? Again, there’s the allure of Bristol. It’s a short track, which always tends to bring out some smaller teams or younger drivers trying to make their way into the sport. That was exemplified during Wednesday’s Truck race, with new teams like DDK Motorsports (Nate Monteith) and young drivers with something to prove (Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy) showing up to race.

Bristol’s more of an even playing field than many tend to be. The elite teams still have the upper hand, but some of the organizations that usually run more mid-pack are able to mix it up with the big boys, and new teams can compete right off the bat instead of finding a more distinct learning curve like they might at a larger speedway.

Then, of course, there’s the prestige of the weekend itself. The Cup Series’ night race used to be one of the hottest tickets in sports to get, and it’s still going to be one of the most plentiful, rowdiest crowds of the season. By extension, the Nationwide race on Friday will also attract a sizable attendance, with fans expecting to be entertained by a track known for its beating and banging.

Glory may be more exceptional at a place like Daytona, but running well at the Bristol night races also pack a wallop in terms of visibility.

It’s entirely possible the entry list will shrink again. The Motorsports Group still has two additional start-and-park cars that the team might decide aren’t worth the trouble with such a large entry list. The status of Vision Racing’s No. 17 team is up in the air after an injury to primary driver Tanner Berryhill, though Berryhill himself has said the team is actively looking for replacements. The No. 90 car, apparently owned by Mario Gosselin, is out for the first time this season but does not have a driver nor a sponsor listed as of now.

But for all those unknowns, there’s also quite a few part-time teams and drivers coming out for Bristol. Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 reappears for the first time since New Hampshire over a month ago, with Ryan Reed attempting his second series race. Brendan Gaughan will pilot a fourth Richard Childress Racing machine, the No. 21. The Biagi-DenBeste team’s back with Kevin Swindell. TriStar Motorsports will field five different cars, only one of which — the No. 91 of Chase Miller — will likely start-and-park.

It’s this that makes the Food City 250 most intriguing. Even before the race begins, there’s bound to be an impassioned battle to even make the show for a large pool of drivers.

And once those drivers do make it in the race, that’s when the real fun will begin.

Quick Hits

-Ty Dillon and Yuengling are going Nationwide racing. Richard Childress Racing announced Monday that the younger Dillon would move from the Camping World Truck Series to the Nationwide Series in 2014, piloting the No. 3 that his older brother Austin has run full time for the last two seasons. Dillon will get sponsorship from Pennsylvania brewing company D.G. Yuengling & Son, a new entrant into NASCAR, particularly as the primary sponsor for eight races. The move all but confirmed Austin Dillon’s move to the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, a change that was solidified later in the week with another Nationwide Series sponsor announcement, seen below.

-Austin Dillon’s move to Sprint Cup was set in stone with a release from his current Nationwide sponsor, AdvoCare. The health and wellness company announced that, with Dillon’s jump to a higher level, it would remain in the Nationwide Series, this time as sponsor on Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing in 2014.

-Eric McClure is still out of his No. 14 for TriStar Motorsports this week, again replaced by Jeff Green. McClure was hospitalized last week for an undisclosed illness that was finally revealed Tuesday: acute renal failure. McClure has since been released from the hospital and is continuing to receive treatment for his illness at home. There is currently no timetable on his return.

-Pat Tryson is officially Nelson Piquet Jr.‘s new crew chief. The move comes after the story was initially reported over a week ago, but the story was pulled from Fox Sports’ website shortly thereafter. Now, the move is official, with former crew chief Chris Carrier stepping down to the Camping World Truck Series to lead Turner Scott Motorsports’ part-time No. 30 effort, which is rumored to be piloted by Ben Kennedy and Cale Gale. Carrier was atop the pit box for Kennedy’s Truck debut last Wednesday.

Looking Ahead: Bristol

Stats (Entered Drivers):

Most Wins: Kyle Busch (5)
Most Top Fives: Kyle Busch (11)
Most Top 10s: Kyle Busch (14)
Most Poles: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Jeff Green (2)

Entered Past Winners: Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Green, Brad Keselowski, Justin Allgaier, Kevin Lepage

Top Average Finish: Kyle Larson (2.0, 1 race), Parker Kligerman (9.0, 3), Austin Dillon (9.0, 3), Kyle Busch (9.4, 18), Sam Hornish Jr. (10.2, 4)

Bristol Nationwide Debuts: Ryan Reed, Drew Herring, Ty Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Chad Hackenbracht, Kevin Swindell

Season Debuts: None

Series Debuts: None

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