Back in Bristol, the Toilet Bowl of NASCAR

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

When a race track is half of one mile, you get a kink in your neck just from watching cars go round-and-round in a tiny circle. But Bristol—the World’s Fastest Half Mile—has a rich history in stock car racing and is hosting the Food City 500 this Sunday. The past three spring Bristol races have gone beyond 500 miles though; due to green-and-white checkered finishes. There can always be drama at Bristol.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks in racing: Edwards and Keselowski have been using fighting words; killer whales and stock cars will have something in common soon; Danica put NASCAR aside until June and drivers tested out the new spoiler at Talladega.  So put down your brackets for just two minutes while we preview Bristol!

Drama is still circling Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards after Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad late in the race at Atlanta two weeks ago. Edwards was placed on probation for three races but his only response has been on Facebook, where he confirmed it was intentional.

Keselowski says the controversy with #12 goes back more than one race and may be linked to exchanges dating back as long as a year or more. Either way, Brad says he’s anxious to meet with Edwards this weekend at Bristol and you can guarantee reporters will follow the drama.

This stuff happens all the time; Keselowski himself admits to turning several drivers, including Edwards, while going for a win in a Nationwide race at Memphis last season. He also spun Denny Hamlin in Phoenix in a separate Nationwide race. Hamiln retaliated the following week in Miami, taking Brad out. It’s part of the sport and fans and drivers will most likely always ask, ‘how far is too far’? But drivers admit they’re not likely to change the way they drive on account of popular opinion or concern.

It’s a shark; it’s a whale—no, it’s a fin designed to keep cars like Keselowski’s on the ground during a crash! That’s right, NASCAR will soon put 3.5 inch fins on the left side of the rear deck lid and window once the spoiler is introduced.  You’ll most likely see this next weekend at Martinsville.

Wind tunnel tests show it could prevent cars from going airborne during major crashes.  The fins were introduced at the Daytona 500 and were originally designated for restrictor plate tracks. But the huge safety benefit might be worth the expansion, so look for more on that next week.

Go away from NASCAR Daddy. Danica Patrick is re-focusing her efforts on the IndyCar Series until June at the earliest. It’s less to do with her meager performance on the circuit thus far and more to do with the fact she wants to win the Indianapolis 500. After that race, she’ll go back and forth between circuits and race in at least ten more Nationwide events for JR Motorsports.  Who knows?  She could be back in time for the Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin! Yeah, right.

Spoiler alert.  No, not on your favorite tv show. NASCAR trimmed two inches off the spoiler that they’re planning to replace the wing with in two weeks. They also cut one inch off each side and reduced the size of the restrictor plate hole.

Drivers think the spoiler redesign was a good one, but that there’s still not much difference between the handling of the car with the spoiler as opposed to the wing. NASCAR is hoping the smaller-sized restrictor hole decreases speed to the mid-190’s Look for more on this next week, too.

Now to Bristol, where a toilet-bowl racetrack either bores you to death or creates exciting racing conditions.  It’s your weekly Sprint to The Chase Preview, breaking down the top contenders.  Each week I analyze their strength for the race at hand as well as their chances for The Chase!  Foot, pedal, gas, throttle, green flag…

Mark Martin.  Mark finished second in the August race there. He’s been eighth or better at every track in 2009 that was less than a mile in length. He’s shorty king; but I don’t mean that in height Mr. Martin…

Kyle Busch.  Has won at Bristol; both of the Sprint Cup races there last year and his comfort level with the toilet bowl is Charmin-like.  That’s right; I just made a toilet reference AND you liked it.

Denny Hamiln.  He hasn’t made waves yet this season, but his 3.5 average finish at the track is second among Sprint Cup racers only to Kyle. He is also first in power rankings in fantasy stats and you know you want to believe in the fantasy. And since 2007, he’s finished in the top six in 12 of 14 short track races. That’s money.

Marcos Ambrose. He had two top ten finishes here last year.  Plus, shorty tracks are a different beast and this B-lister has a great 6.5 average finish.  Now who he is tied with in this average?

Ryan Newman. Who stands alone on his own for B-listers and can definitely contend at short tracks. In addition to the 6.5 average finish, he’s a high 5.5 average starter at this track and great starting position is everything.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He’s had another slow start this season but I vowed prior to Daytona that he would be contender in several races.  This is one of them. He sucked last season but still ran well at Bristol with an 11.5 average finish. And he’s 13th in points right now, so add that to your Amp beverage.

Jimmie Johnson. Probably a contender but I’m sick of putting his name on here and sicker to have to write words under his name.  So I’ll just put it up and you Johnson lovers can relish in your domination again this week.  Now leave me alone so I can go cheer for anyone but Jimmie.

Kevin Harvick.  Is currently the points leader and is running faster than last season. He and his fellow Richard Childress drivers are doing better overall this season and I think Harvick will be a consistent contender week after week.

Jeff Burton.  Is one of the other Richard Childress drivers whom I was referring to. He’s sixth in the points standings and consistent to boot.

Clint Bowyer.  Is the Third Musketeer of the Richard Childress drivers whom I was referring to. He’s fifth in the points standings and he finished sixth at the track last August.  Plus, don’t put it past any of these three to help each other out if they’re all near the head of the pack at some point this season. After all, a win for your team is better than no win at all.


Predicted Winner: Jeff Gordon. In 2002, Gordon’s finish to win the checkered flag made history when he pulled the bump-and-run on Rusty Wallace. I think he’ll race well this weekend and he’s due for another win at this track and for his first win of the 2010 season. He’s second in power rankings for short tracks in fantasy stats and that can certainly translate to reality. He’s won 5 races there and 15 total on short tracks.  So my pennies are on Gordon.

No Way He’ll Win: Carl Edwards, Jr.  Karma has a way of coming full circle and he’ll be on his best behavior thanks to the Keselowski stunt.  So don’t look for too aggressive driving on this half mile from Edwards.  That in turn, probably ruins his chances for a dramatic win.  And the last lap on a short track has the potential to be dramatic.

Check back next week as we break down what’s new for Martinsville, which will be the first time NASCAR tries out the new spoilers and restrictor plate holes if all goes well during a week of testing.

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