Back in 2007, Bristol Motor Speedway added new variable banking. This allowed cars to run one of several lines but also reduced the physical racing that made the track so beloved. Now the track owners are looking to turn back the clock. After the March event earlier this season the banking near the outside wall was ground down about two degrees in an effort to eliminate the top groove and restore the old style of racing. The half-mile length gives those that qualify at the back of the pack little separation from the front of the field and in danger of going a lap down quickly. Since we might be looking at a single groove track, qualifying results should carry some extra weight this week when making your roster decisions.
Practice sessions: Friday, Aug. 24 at 12:00 pm ET, 2:45 pm ET
Qualifying: Friday, Aug. 24 at 5:10 pm ET
Race: Sunday, Aug. 25 at 7:30 pm ET
Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Length: 0.533 miles
Turns 1-4: 24-30 degrees
Straightaways: 4-9 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Valvoline NextGen Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
After finishing as the runner-up at Bristol back in March, Kenseth now owns six straight top-10s at the site with eight of those results in his last nine. Last week at Michigan International Speedway, Kenseth ran inside the top 10 all day but finished 17th after pitting late. Among all drivers, Kenseth's career average running position of 10.3 at Bristol ranks second. Kenseth has the veteran savvy to quickly adjust to the tweaked racing surface and continue his impressive streak.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
While there is some uncertainty over the type of racing we'll see this week at Bristol you'll want to make sure Keselowski is on your roster this week. The Blue Duece has won the last two races at Bristol with an average running position of third each time. Keselowski has finished as the runner-up the last two weeks and is now riding a streak of seven top-10s which was sparked by his third win of the season. Considering how well Keselowski is running right now, it doesn't really matter where the race is held; he's a must start.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
After years of underachieving at Bristol, Truex has come around in his last two starts. He finished as the runner-up in last year's night race and third during the day in March while holding an average running position of ninth both times. Thanks to those performances and a career year the secret is out on Truex but he's still among the safest middle-tier starts.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Very quietly Newman returns to Bristol with six straight finishes of 11th or better this season. He's also finished 12th or better in seven of the last eight BMS races. This is a solid track for Newman and he's been running well enough to trust as he continues to battle for a wild card spot in the Chase.
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Rowdy owns five career wins at Bristol, several of which were dominating victories. However, Busch has been very inconsistent lately with just two top-10s over the last six races. He certainly has all the talent to atone for an early crash back in March but the recent up and down performances are a concern. High risk, high reward is what Busch is all about this week while competing on one of his top tracks.
Paul Menard | No. 27 Menards/Schrock Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Coming off a ninth-place result at Michigan, Menard now owns six top-15s in the last seven races of the season. At Bristol he's put up two solid runs lately, finishing 10th earlier this season and fifth in March of last year. Menard may not be a flashy pick but he's sure to come at an excellent value.
Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Allstate Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
With an average finish of 19.3 it's been a disappointing season for McMurray, who has yet to notch a top-five in 2012. However, Jamie Mac someone to debate over as a long shot this week thanks to six finishes of 12th or better in the last eight Bristol races. He's not a safe start, to say the least, but worth rolling the dice with as a lower-tier option.
Brian Vickers | No. 55 MyClassicGarage Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Back in March, Vickers rallied from a starting spot of 25th to finish fifth at Bristol with 125 laps led, his first top-10 in 14 previous career starts at the site. Vickers has picked up four more starts with MWR, adding another top-five. However, he most recently suffered a DNF due to engine failure right as the green flag dropped at Watkins Glen International. Fear not, the No. 55 machine won the pole last week and was running great until getting caught up a bizarre crash.
Temper your expectations
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Since 2009, Harvick has recorded an average running position better than 18th just once in seven starts at Bristol with a single top-10 finish. Happy is the only driver currently ranked 11th or better in points that is without a win. He also has the fewest number of top-fives and top-10s among that group. Gil Martin has reclaimed the crew chief job for Harvick's team effective this week but an instant turnaround seems unlikely.
Carl Edwards | No. 99 Fastenal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Not only is Edwards winless in 2012 he's only registered a pair of top-five finishes all season. Last year, he compiled one win and two runner-up finishes in the first four races. It's that extreme drop in performance that makes Edwards a driver to avoid this week despite his two wins at Bristol and a recent history of qualifying very well.