1. How Long Will it Take to Get Races in This Weekend?
Rain is in the forecast for all three days at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the rain won’t determine who does and who doesn’t get to race on Sunday as only 39 cars are entered. In the XFINITY Series, Martins Motorsports has already withdrawn the No. 45 Chevrolet that Tommy Joe Martins was planning on racing. The reasoning here is that the team feared being sent home without a chance to even practice.
As of this writing, there is an 80 percent chance of rain on Friday. It decreases to 50 percent on Saturday, but increases back up to 80 percent on Sunday. Luckily for NASCAR, Bristol doesn’t take all that long to dry (given the short length and high banks, it might be the quickest track in NASCAR to dry, given the right conditions). However, they will be dodging the rain showers all weekend. There is a pretty good chance that the race could be run in short stretches between rain delays on Sunday.
Could the lights come into play once again this weekend? Quite possibly. – Phil Allaway
2. How Will the Track Hold Up This Weekend?
Bristol already confirmed it will apply the VHT solution to the inside line of the track prior to the race weekend. As you may remember from last year, this is a black substance that makes whatever surface it adheres to very sticky. This will be complemented by the Tire Dragon, the machine that helped put down rubber at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
The goal will be to replicate the conditions Bristol had last summer. At that time, the result was multiple grooves of racing, including the lower groove being used for the first time in years. However, the rains in the forecast could play havoc with it. While the VHT itself is likely strong enough to withstand precipitation, the rubber from the Tire Dragon might not last all that long.
The hope is that in between rain showers, side-by-side action will be encouraged with both lines being equally good. Last summer, the VHT made the lower groove the place to be at first. Laps were turned at a pace faster than the track record in practice. By the time the races came around, the VHT was beginning to wear a little. That allowed the drivers to search around for where they felt the best place to run was. By Saturday night, it was possible to run back up against the wall in the turns. However, you could still go down if you needed to make a pass.
As a result, last year’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race was one of the most competitive in years. Race winner Kevin Harvick was quite pleased, and not just with his victory.
“It gave the drivers a lot of options where you could drive the car and make it work,” Harvick said. “I was able to come up through the field because of that. And Friday night was probably one of the best XFINITY Series races I’ve ever watched. I’m really glad to see Bristol back where it is.”
If the races this week can meet that standard, there are going to be a lot of happy people in Eastern Tennessee. – Phil Allaway
3. Will Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing Get Their Acts Together at Bristol?
There is nothing that can cure a dry spell quite like a trip to a place that has yielded much success. That is certainly the case for the veteran drivers at JGR and SHR.
The Busch brothers, JGR’s Kyle Busch and SHR’s Kurt Busch, are two of the greatest drivers ever at Bristol. They each have five wins at the track. Kyle won four out of the six Bristol races between 2009 and 2011, while Kurt won four out of six from 2002 to 2004. However, neither has won at the track since Kyle’s win in the 2011 spring race.
SHR’s Harvick is a two-time Bristol winner and the most recent winner at the track. He will try to get his team on the right track and score a win in a Ford for the first time in his career.
Matt Kenseth, driver of JGR’s No. 20, is a four-time winner at BMS and an appearance at the track could be just what the doctor ordered. Kenseth snapped a 51-race losing streak when he won the spring race of 2015. While he only enters Sunday’s race with a 24-race losing streak, he comes into the race 22nd in points and needing a positive run.
Teammate Denny Hamlin is another former winner at the track, winning the 2012 fall race.
SHR’s Clint Bowyer has never won at Bristol, but he finished in the top 10 in last year’s spring race, driving for HScott Motorsports. He comes to the track this season in much better equipment and could be a force to be reckoned with.
His teammate, Danica Patrick, has one top 10 at the track in 2015 — her last in Cup to date — but it was the only time she has ever ran all of the laps at the track. She has had three straight Bristol races of 22nd or worse and needs to try to keep the fenders on the car this time.
JGR rookie Daniel Suarez has never raced in MENCS at Bristol, but he turned heads in the XFINITY Series spring 2015 race at the track when he finished second place to race winner Joey Logano. Suarez could finally show some of his potential this weekend. – Michael Massie
4. Who will punch their ticket for the All-Star Race?
There are only four races remaining until the Monster Energy All-Star Race.
So far, 15 drivers have qualified for the event by virtue of winning a race in 2016/2017, being a former winner of the All-Star Race or being a former champion.
Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. are the drivers in so far.
All three stage winners of the Monster Energy Open and the fan vote winner will also be added to the lineup.
No driver wants to wait that long to qualify for the event though, and their journeys would be a lot easier if they were to win one of the next four races. What drivers not currently in the race have the best shot at making it in?
Of the drivers entered in the Open, Bowyer has the most starts in the All-Star race with seven. Bowyer has won twice at both Richmond International Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway, which are two of the four upcoming races, meaning Bowyer likely has the best shot to win his way into the All-Star Race.
David Ragan has been to the All-Star Race four times and is also a previous winner at Talladega.
AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne and Paul Menard are all former MENCS race winners and have been in the All-Star Race a combined eight times, but none have ever won at any of the upcoming racetracks, which also includes Bristol Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
Chase Elliott, Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are all former All-Stars that are still looking for their first career wins to get return to the event. Elliott is one that is very well could, while the other two likely will not.
Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Suarez have never been All-Stars, but all have the equipment and the ability to win one of the upcoming races to qualify their way in. Suarez’s No. 19 would have been in the event had Carl Edwards still been driving it.
The clock is ticking to make it into the first All-Star Race with Monster Energy as the sponsor and it will be interesting to watch who can race their way in. – Michael Massie