Bristol Story Lines

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon runs the high line around Bristol. That's the lane everybody will want to run tonight and it could create quite a bit contact and conflict. (Photo: Getty Images)

BRISTOL, Tenn. - The gladiator style of racing some fans have longed for at Bristol Motor Speedway could be back.

Drivers say that the top groove is significantly faster than the lower grove and that could create issues passing. With most running the same lane, a driver might have to root a competitor of the way to get by.

“You get up there and it’s hard to get by guys,’’ said Jeff Gordon, who won last weekend’s race at Michigan and starts tonight’s race beside pole-sitter Kevin Harvick. 

“But it, in some ways, might bring back some of the excitement that the fans really like because it’s really hard to pass up there. So, in order to pass, you’re either going to have to slide-job the guy or run into the guy, or girl. You’re going to have to be super aggressive on restarts, and I think it’s going to create some sparks and some tempers flaring and plenty of action.’’

The top groove, though, also is fraught with peril because it’s so easy to lose grip and slap the wall as many did in Sprint Cup qualifying and the Nationwide race Friday.

“We’re going to have to find a way to be able to run up there all day and not hit the wall and not make mistakes, and somehow have your car good enough to be able to pass,’’ said Joey Logano, who enters the Irwin Tools Night Race with four consecutive top-10 finishes.

“That’s going be the tough part. You’re taking a big gamble to pass the car in front of you because if you don’t make it work, you’re getting freight-trained pretty far back in a hurry. So you’ve got to be able to kind of know where the cars are around you, look far enough ahead to see where the lapped cars are, and then you make that move when you feel you can definitely do it because if you don’t, you’re going to lose two or three spots instead of gaining that one.’’

The top groove is just among the many story lines in tonight’s race.

Chase Pressure

Only three races remain until the 16-driver Chase is set. Twelve drivers have won  races, leaving the final four spots - for now - to non-winners with the most points. 

Greg Biffle holds that final transfer spot heading into tonight’s race. He has a nine-point lead on Kasey Kahne, a 22-point lead on Austin Dillon and a 24-point lead on Kyle Larson.

So, how much will those drivers gamble tonight?

“You take chances and passes and all the things you can do, but at the same time we know we’re on that bubble in points,’’ said Biffle, who starts eighth. “I feel it’s going to take a win still to get in this thing, and that’s what we’re going for.’’

Dillon, who starts 26th, says there is no reason to hold back.

“Being a rookie, I don’t have much to lose,’’ he said. “I think that if we have three solid races, we are going to give ourselves that opportunity.’’        

Among those still seeking their first win of the season are Marcos Ambrose (starts 10th), Ryan Newman (11th), Kasey Kahne (12th), Clint Bowyer (14th), Brian Vickers (15th) and Matt Kenseth (16th).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

If only things would have gone a little differently in March when Stenhouse finished second to teammate Carl Edwards. The caution lights inadvertently turned on, creating what would have been a green-white-checkered finish before rain ended the race with Stenhouse trailing Edwards.

Had Stenhouse won, he’d be headed toward the Chase. Instead, he needs to win to get in.

“I think about it a lot,’’ Stenhouse said of that race. “I’m looking forward to getting back on track, and, hopefully, getting close to the same result, if not just one better.’’

He starts tonight’s race 21st.

Tempers

Bristol often brings out the anger in drivers. Five hundred laps, tight quarters and so much at stake. Contact will be made. Fenders will be crumpled. Feelings will be bruised. 

The key for drivers is to maintain composure throughout all of that, push the anger aside and focus on what is at hand. Some will and some won’t. 

Weather

The National Weather Service is calling for a 40 percent chance of rain tonight. Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck race was postponed to Thursday morning because of rain. The start of Friday’s Nationwide race was delayed an hour by rain. Saturday’s Cup race could be impacted as well.

Kyle Larson

He’s taken to Bristol regardless what he drives and nearly won in his first career start at this track, placing second in a Nationwide race in March 2013.

Larson slid during qualifying, slapping the outside wall with the right rear and the inside wall with the left front. The car was repaired, but he’ll start tonight’s race 40th. Needing a win to make the Chase, his task became more difficult with that incident.

“It’s frustrating because we had a really, really good (car) in practice with definitely top five speed,’’ he said. “Now I don’t know what we have.”

Keep an eye on him. He could surprise. 

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