Bristol Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

The Craftsman Truck and Busch races proved that not only will there be more side-by-side racing in the Cup race on the newly re-concreted Bristol Motor Speedway. But all of the drivers said that they can also run different grooves if they want so you'll see different entry and exit points. In year's past, Bristol had become a one-groove racetrack, and drivers were afraid to get out of line and make a move. Now, you're going to see more side-by-side racing and more lead changes. But I expect a lot more cautions as well. It's going to be a very physical race, even by Bristol standards. There used to be a preferred line, and if you got out of it, you were going to go backward. Now, the groove itself is much wider and the track is definitely smoother. Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about how the bumps really rattled drivers inside the race car, but the bumps are gone. After winning the Truck race, Johnny Benson said that the people responsible for making the changes to the track should feel very proud. It's very rare to hear all drivers be so supportive of track changes.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon: With five wins, five poles and leads in 22 of the 29 races he's run at Bristol, Gordon can be aggressive and take some gambles. They want those 10 bonus points they will get for winning a race in the Chase.
  • Tony Stewart: Adapting very quickly to any kind of a change — whether it's new pavement, new surface or a new configuration — Stewart will be strong. His record isn't as great as Gordon's, but he's got a win.
  • Kevin Harvick: With four Busch Series wins and a Cup win, Harvick has been comfortable in Thunder Valley from the very start. In his first Cup race for Richard Childress Racing, he led 137 laps. They had a problem on pit road and finished 24th, but he's comfortable at Bristol, which is important.
  • Kurt Busch: On a roll with two wins in the last three Cup races, Busch is tied with Gordon for most wins among active drivers (five). The No. 2 team is just so good right now, and they have so much confidence. Crew chief Pat Tryson has made a huge impact on that race team, and Busch believes in him.
  • Matt Kenseth: Even though this track has changed since he won the last two Bristol night races, Kenseth will be a factor.
  • What to Watch

  • Losing character = clean slate: During practice on Friday, Jeff Hammond said the track lost some of its character with its new concrete. Here's what he meant: Matt Kenseth has won the last two night races, and he and his team have figured out where they needed to run and what they needed to do for the hot summer conditions, leading 415 laps two years ago. What Jeff really means is Kenseth may have lost his advantage so it kind of gives us a clean slate for this year's Bristol night race because the teams have to throw away their notes.
  • 200 laps on tires? If drivers get within their fuel window — 140 laps — they're going to back up their pit equipment, and they're going to come back to pit road because it's a conservative tire.
  • : Since the track became a complete bowl with grandstands all around it, it's easy to get confused and disoriented about where you are on the track. Two years in a row, Jeff Gordon missed the pit road entrance. The teams in the Chase and those fighting for Chase spots are going to be extra careful and let their drivers know where to get on and off of pit road.
  • Patience early: I'll be covering Dale Earnhardt Jr. for DirecTV's Hot Pass, and while he's 163 points out of the Chase, I'm not ready to write him off yet. But if he has a problem at Bristol, his shot at making the Chase is definitely over. There are so many unknowns in traffic at this racetrack that drivers need to be careful so patience is a very important ingredient to running well in Thunder Valley.
  • Speed Mail Steve
  • Burton's blank car: The No. 31 team and Richard Childress Racing are so well-funded that not having a primary sponsor this week won't be a factor. It's disappointing for them, but it's all going to be settled in the courts. Paint the car white, pink or purple, Burton is still going to be a factor, and he'll still be in the Chase. He's too much of a veteran who has been in too many championship races for a sponsor issue to be a distraction.
  • Pit Perspective

    The teams were in Michigan for six days and five nights, which underscores how difficult our schedule is. We've got 13 more races in a row, and those teams are tired. To complicate things this weekend, it's extremely hot in Bristol. For the road guys — the guys down in the pits — it's a tough turnaround so conditioning and being mentally sharp will have huge implications on pit road.

    Finish Line

    If at all possible, stay out of trouble. For drivers like Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch who are trying to lock themselves into the Chase and even guys who have momentum and have clinched a spot in the top 12 for the final 12 races, no one can afford to have a bad night. We're running out of time. We go to California, and then we'll settle it in Richmond. Bristol is definitely a wild-card race getting in the Chase because you're going to see a lot of caution flags.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer

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