Driver Handicaps Bristol

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin has no Top 5 finishes at Bristol in the last 10 years, but the Tennessee native is hot this season, with Top 10 finishes in very single race this season, including the Bud Shootout and Twin 125 race. Rusty Wallace is the current master of Bristol with six wins in the last 10 years, but has only won one Winston Cup race since sweeping Bristol in 2000.

Sterling Marlin
Marlin has never really prospered on short tracks and any points leader always gets nervous going to Bristol where you can get wiped out on the first lap through no fault of your own. Tennessee native Marlin has never won here, but did finish second way back in 1991. (I believe Tennessee was still debating rejoining the Union that year.) Hasn’t finished worst than 12th in the last five Bristol Cup races, so if he can keep the fenders on it, I’d guess Marlin can keep his top 10 streak in every race this season alive.

Ryan Newman
This will be Newman’s first Winston Cup short track race but he finished 6th and 8th here last year in the Busch races. Still learning to drive the more powerful Cup cars in Thunder Valley is a major challenge. Then again Darlington is a major challenge for a rookie too, and Newman did just fine meeting that challenge last week. Has an excellent mentor in Rusty Wallace when it comes to running this place.

Matt Kenseth
Kenseth finished 12th in his first Cup race at Bristol, but hasn’t finished that well here since. Two of four career finishes are outside the top 30. If there’s any good news, Kenseth typically does well at Dover so he does know how to run fast on the high banks and concrete. Won last spring’s Busch race here as well.

Rusty Wallace
For many years Wallace was considered the King of the Short Tracks and he’s got the stats to back that up here at Bristol with eight wins here dating back as far as 1986 and including the season sweep at 2000. Also has five second place finishes at Bristol. Dominated here last fall, but in both races last year pit strategy or the timing of caution flags did him in though he finished in the top 10 in both races. Will Billy Willburn have any better luck atop the box?

Jimmie Johnson
Another driver facing his first Cup short track race, Johnson finished 12th and 4th in Busch series races here. Also has an excellent mentor in Jeff Gordon to learn about this place.

Jeff Gordon
Facing off track distractions and the one of the worst slumps of his Winston Cup career, Gordon returns to a track where he’s known a great deal of success. Gordon has four wins here, including his very controversial bump and run on Rusty Wallace, and top ten finishes in three out of the last four Winston Cup races held in Thunder Valley. Aerodynamics don’t matter at Bristol, and I think Gordon can put the distractions aside to return to form. My bet is a duel between Gordon and Wallace for top spot.

Jeff Burton
Burton has never won at Bristol in a Cup car but did finish second in 1998. Burton had finished in the top 10 at Bristol in six of seven Cup races prior to last year, but missed the top ten in both events in 2001. (40th and 15th.) Risky pick.

Ward Burton
5th and 12th here last year, Burton hasn’t finished worse than 12th at Bristol since 1998.

Mark Martin
Martin struggled here last year with 34th and 37th place finishes, but historically this had been a good track for him. Martin has a pair of Bristol wins and prior to last year had missed the top 10 only twice in sixteen consecutive Bristol events. Good dark horse pick.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior’s on record as saying this year he wants to improve at tracks he has struggled at and he did so last week at Darlington. This is another one of those tracks. 14th last year was actually Junior’s best ever result here and all his other Cup finishes at Bristol have been outside the top 20.

Kurt Busch
After a hot start to the season, Busch had his troubles at Darlington last week. This weekend is likely to be another challenge with Busch having finished 42nd and 25th at Bristol in his rookie season.

Tony Stewart
Stewart won the Bristol night race last year, and finished 2nd in the same event in 2000, but as of right now his medical condition going into this weekend is unclear. Bristol is a tough place to drive hurt, and even under caution a driver swap can cost a team a lap.

Elliott Sadler
Sadler returns to Bristol as the defending champion of this event, the first and to date only Winston Cup victory of his career. Hasn’t finished worse than 11th in his last three Cup races here and seems to like the new tire introduced last year.

Bill Elliott
Better known as a threat on a super-speedway, Elliott set the world on its ear with a Bristol win back in 1988, the year he went on to claim the title. No top 10s in his last eight Winston Cup starts at Bristol however.

Ricky Craven
This track has been a thorn in Craven’s side. He’s failed to qualify for races, and has best career finishes of 9th and 13th. Every other Bristol race he’s run Craven has finished outside the top 20. 23rd and 38th here last year.

Ricky Rudd

Rudd has had some good runs at Bristol including a pair of second place finishes. Top ten finishes in four out of the last five Cup races in Thunder Valley.

Bobby Labonte

Historically this isn’t a good track for Labonte. He’s got five top 10s in eighteen stabs at Thunder Valley in a Cup car and has yet to finish in the top 5 here.

Jeremy Mayfield
Mayfield has had some strong runs at Bristol but rarely gets the finishes out of those strong runs and that’s what pays the points. His third place finish here last season was his best ever Winston Cup finish at Bristol, and matched the best finishes of his entire 2001 campaign.

Terry Labonte
Labonte has had a lot of good runs here at Bristol including a win in 1995, but he’s best remembered at this track as having been spun out by Dale Earnhardt on the final lap while leading in one of NASCAR’s most controversial races ever. Top ten finishes in eleven of the last fourteen Bristol Cup races, including both last year. Given long odds he could be a good pick.

Others to Watch

Dale Jarrett
Jarrett is the only active Winston Cup driver with a win at Bristol not currently in the top 20 in points. Won here in 1997 and since the first race of 1995 has only missed a top ten finish at Thunder Valley three times.

Kevin Harvick
Harvick finished second to Tony Stewart here last fall, and his team surely knows a thing or two about setting up a car for this place. Won last fall’s Busch race here.

Steve Park
While Park struggled here early in his career, he’s finished in the top 10 in his last four Winston Cup races at Bristol. Looked strong last week until he made an error in judgment.

John Andretti
John’s second place finish in this race last season was far and away the best performance for Petty Engineering last year and his only top 5 of the season.

Jeff Green
Green scored his first Winston Cup pole at Bristol last fall. Finished second in the Busch race that same weekend, but 42nd in the Cup race. 2nd and 3rd in Busch series races in 2000.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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