A track by many names (“Thunder Valley” and “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” among them), Bristol has earned its monikers. One of NASCAR’s loudest tracks, with sub-15 second laps, the bullring-like venue is a historically sought after ticket. With up to 28 degrees of banking in the turns (3rd highest behind Daytona and Talladega respectively) and stadium seating, “The Last Great Colosseum” may be the most appropriate of all. It paints a picture of what awaits inside; one gladiator to outlast and triumph above ~39 others (38 this year). There will be crashes. There will be hurt feelings and bruised egos. And if the mood is right/wrong, you may even see a helmet thrown at another car — it’s happened before. (In a cruel twist of irony, it was a similar situation that led to the untimely demise of Kevin Ward Jr. in a car driven by Stewart; Ward’s family and Stewart reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this week.)
Beyond all that, there’s some pretty good driving here, too! Appealing especially to those brought up on local short tracks, “rubbing is racing'” and “the chrome horn” LIVE here in the shadow of the Colossus (a 4-sided display hung by cables featuring 30 foot by 63 foot screens. Replacing the scoring pylon in 2016, it is claimed to be the world’s largest outdoor-hung display of its kind). 500 laps (266.5 miles) of beatin’ and bangin’ in front of [up to] 162,000 of NASCAR’s faithful. The Food City 500 and the race’s atmosphere in Bristol, TN could only be enhanced by putting it under lights — that comes in August.
Here’s what to look for:
–Kyle Busch got the Pole on Friday (on “Bush’s Best” Pole Day. “Busch is best?” Hmm..), starting out front on a track where clean air is probably the most important. He crashed out in the Spring last year, but bounced back to claim victory in the Summer race. 6 wins to his credit, Rowdy will be on a rail tomorrow.
-And his older brother Kurt Busch was set to start right beside him — a late crash in Saturday’s Practice session relegated him to a backup car; he’ll start tail-end Charlie instead. There was a time when Kurt Busch was the ONLY choice here, 5 wins for him between 2002 and 2006 driving Jack Roush’s #97 for 4 of those. While he hasn’t had success of that magnitude in many years, he finished 5th in his last attempt here, and a 3rd in the 2016 Spring race.
-Many are looking at Erik Jones as the next young driver to really break through. He won the 2016 and 2017 Xfinity Spring races here, and put on a clinic in the Fall Cup Series race, too. He’d lead 260 laps before current teammate Kyle Busch left him to finish 2nd. Jones has inherited Matt Kenseth’s #20, a better ride than he had last year. Watch out for this guy on Sunday.
–Jimmie Johnson is not having the year he planned on, still searching for something to grab hold of. He had a good run going last week at Texas before leaving the race early, but something to lean on were the success prior to his exit and his win here last year. Johnson led 81 laps and finished 1st from the 11th starting spot. ‘Ol 7-time and the #48 roll off 17th.
–Trevor Bayne probably won’t get a lot of attention here on Roc Sports NOW, but he’s got something pretty notable going at Bristol. The young driver has a streak of 5 straight Top 15 finishes on the short track, coming off an 11th and 7th last year. The Knoxville native starts 33rd this time, the worst start he’s ever had at his home track. Something’s gotta give.
Weather concerns have bumped the start of the race up an hour. Coverage of the race now starts on FOX at 1:00pm, green flag scheduled for 1:13pm.