NASCAR is ready for another new winner in 2017 and Bristol Motor Speedway might just be the place it happens.
The tiny 0.533-mile oval this weekend plays host to the Food City 500 (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX), race No. 8 of 26 in NASCAR’s regular season.
No disrespect to Brad Keselowski, the only two-time winner on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit this year, or one-race winners Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, but there are plenty of talented, hungry drivers out there who’d love to win at Bristol.
In fact, NASCAR’s loop data shows that the four highest-rated active drivers in the Food City 500 from 2005 forward are all winless so far this year.
So here are seven drivers who on Sunday I believe could be the seventh different Cup race winners of 2017:
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
If Stenhouse is ever going to win a race, it’s going to be at Bristol, where he’s already posted a pair of second-place finishes. He loves this track and does very well at it.
We all know that Joe Gibbs Racing is having a down season by its own lofty standards, but at short tracks, drivers can have more of an impact than they do at the super-fast 1.5-mile tracks. The JGR cars have had more speed at shorter tracks so far. Besides, Kenseth has four Bristol victories and the top driver rating at 100.9. He’s due.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After finishing fifth at Texas, Earnhardt’s confidence should be on the upswing, and his numbers at Bristol are rock-solid: He has an average finish of 12.515 here and in last year’s race, he came home second to Carl Edwards.
No, Logano hasn’t won yet this year. But he’s finished sixth or better in six of the seven races so far, including the last three. He’s led laps in six of seven races and both of Team Penske’s Fords have been bad fast all year long. Plus, he’s already won twice at Bristol.
Second in the Cup points standings right now, Elliott was 14th in points at the time in his rookie season of 2016. Elliott finished fourth in this race a year ago, and eventually, he’s going to start winning. He ranks fourth at Bristol in NASCAR’s driver ratings.
No doubt about it, Busch has put up monster numbers at Bristol, where he has won 17 races in NASCAR’s top three divisions, including five at the Cup level. He’s also led more laps here than any active Cup driver. If he’s not at least running in the top five all race long, then Joe Gibbs Racing has a problem.
The 2014 Cup champion is the most recent winner here, having claimed the Bristol night race victory last August. He also has the third-highest driver rating at this track, behind only Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. This could be a freaky fast weekend for Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing squad.