Instant Analysis: Bristol

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Tom Jensen

Instant Analysis: Bristol

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed." Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.

  • Race Trax: Results plus caution, leader updates
  • FOX Trax: Chart lap-by-lap in-race results
  • Past races: California | Las Vegas | Atlanta | Bristol | Martinsville | Texas | Phoenix | Talladega | Richmond | Darlington | Charlotte | Dover | Pocono | Michigan | Sonoma | Daytona | Chicagoland | New Hampshire | Pocono | Brickyard | Watkins Glen | Michigan

    Michael from Lewisburg W.V.: Tom, Can the amount of travel over the next 14 days have an effect on the teams. Tenneseee to California to Virginia is lot of traveling under the pressure to make the Chase.

    Tom Jensen: Michael, at this point in the season, everyone is tired. But the top teams are deep in talent and should be plenty strong to cope with the effects of the travel, so they should be OK.

    Post-race notes

    What a weekend for Matt Kenseth, winning the Busch and Cup races. The Cup win was his second straight and it gave Ford a sweep of all three Bristol races this week, as Mark Martin won the Truck Series race Wednesday.

    The victory was the 14th Cup triumph of Kenseth's career and puts him in great shape for the title run.

    Kasey Kahne, 11th in points, actually lost ground and is now 90 points out of 10th place with just two races to go, which means he'll have an uphill struggle to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

    Lap 500: Matt Kenseth wins his fourth race of the season, followed by Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Scott Riggs and Jeff Gordon. Kenseth, who won the Bristol night race for the second straight year, is now locked into the Chase.

    Lap 499: Riggs passes Gordon for fourth.

    Lap 495: Busch has cut the lead to 1.095 seconds, but does he have enough time?

    Lap 490: Kenseth leads Busch by 1.924 seconds. If the track stays green, Kenseth will win easily.

    Lap 487: Busch passes Earnhardt for second.

    Lap 485: Kenseth's lead is 1.409 seconds.

    Lap 480: Riggs is harassing Gordon for fourth place.

    Lap 475: Kenseth's lead is 0.728 seconds and pulling away. He's hoping the track will stay green for the final 25 laps, which would give him his first-ever sweep of a Bristol weekend.

    Lap 470: The order is Kenseth, Earnhardt, Busch, Gordon and Riggs.

    Lap 467: Kenseth leads Earnhardt by 0.448 seconds.

    Lap 462: Gordon passes Edwards for fourth place.

    Lap 457: Busch passes Edwards for third place.

    Lap 455: Green flag, Kenseth pulls out smartly as Earnhardt also breaks away from lapped cars.

    Ashley from Wingdale, N.Y.: Hey Tom, do you think that Jeff Burton will end his winless streak tonight?

    Tom Jensen: Ashley, thanks for the question. Matt Kenseth is looking like he's going to be awfully tough to stop tonight and Burton has fallen to sixth.

    Lap 449: Kenseth pits, as does Burton and most of the rest of the leaders. The order out of the pits is Kenseth, Earnhardt, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Gordon, Riggs, Hamlin, Newman, Burton and Johnson.

    Caution 10

    Lap 444: Caution No. 10. Sadler wrecks again between Turns 1 and 2 as something broke on his car, apparently.

    Lap 442: Burton loses two positions.

    Lap 430: The order remains the same out front: Kenseth, Busch, Earnhardt, Burton, Gordon and Riggs.

    Lap 425: Scott Riggs is looking for his first top-five finish of the season and is now sixth.

    Martin is up to 28th, which will hurt his points standing, but if he finishes there, he'll stay in the top 10.

    Lap 415: Kenseth leads Busch, Earnhardt, Burton and Gordon.

    Lap 410: Kyle Busch is now second, 1.249 seconds behind Kenseth.

    Lap 403: Kyle Busch passes Burton for third.

    Lap 400: Kenseth leads Earnhardt, Burton, Kyle Busch and Gordon. Kurt Busch behind the wall to have a transmission replaced.

    Lap 399: Kenseth retakes lead after Earnhardt hits apron.

    Lap 392: Kyle Busch passes teammated Jeff Gordon for fourth place.

    Lap 391: Kurt Busch's car is hopping out of fourth gear.

    Lap 387: Green flag, with Earnhardt up front. McMurray was held for one lap for pitting outside the pit box.

    Larry from Bristol, Tennessee: Why did NASCAR penalize Mark Martin for pitting out of the box and not Jeff Gordon? The way that the announcers described the penalty was that Mark was trying to short pit in the box and was over the line. During one of the cautions they showed Jeff Gordon's rear of the car over the line and not in the box. To me shouldn't he have penalized a lap for pitting out of the box or is this another one of those things where NASCAR doesn't think Jeff Goron does anything wrong.

    Tom Jensen: Larry, thanks for the question. I didn't see Gordon's car out of the pit box, so I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you on that. Martin's had plenty of other problems tonight.

    Dan from Sullivan, Illinois: Do you think the 24 and 48 can hook up for the win?

    Tom Jensen: Dan, good question. I don't think Gordon and Johnson will hook up for the win if Kenseth and Burton have anything to say about it.

    Lap 383: Leaders pit, likely for the last time. The order out of the pits is Earnhardt, Kenseth, Burton, Gordon and Kyle Busch.

    Caution 9

    Lap 381: Caution No. 9. Sadler hits Nemechek in Turn 3, taking out J.J. Yeley, too. Truex gets the Lucky Dog once again.

    Lap 368: Burton laps Kurt Busch. Only the top 19 cars are still on the lead lap.

    Lap 363: Burton has minor contact with Casey Mears as he tries to lap him, but apparently his car is unscathed.

    Lap 350: Burton leads Kenseth by 1.185 seconds. Earnhardt, Jr., Gordon and Kyle Busch follow. Burton has already clinched the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps in the race.

    Pat from Fort Worth, Texas: Comment on the struggles of the No. 6 team in this race? Will they make the Chase?

    Tom Jensen: Pat, thanks for the question. Martin will have to run well in the last two races or hope someone else has bad luck if he want to get into the Chase. His car's nose was damaged early tonight and that's hurt him. But, yes, I think he'll make it in.

    Sarah from Hightown, Va.: Hi Tom! What is a typical number of cautions for Bristol? What is the most cautions at Bristol?

    Tom Jensen: Sarah, glad you could join us. The record for cautions in this race is 20, although the typical number is more like 12 or so. There were 14 cautions in 250 laps in the Busch race last night.

    Lap 333: Green flag. Sadler is 19th, Busch 20th after their penalties.

    Lap 325: Leaders pit. Order out is Burton, Kenseth, Earnhardt, Gordon, Kyle Busch, Edwards, Hamlin, Kahne and Johnson. Sadler is too fast exiting pit road, Kurt Busch too fast entering.

    Caution 8

    Lap 324: Caution No. 8 as Stremme loses a right-front tire and hits the wall in Turn 4. Truex gets the lucky dog.

    Lap 318: Kenseth takes lead from Burton, who is complaining of a push.

    Lap 317: Edwards passes Gordon for fourth.

    Lap 315: Burton's lead is 0.352 seconds over Kenseth.

    Lap 305: Kurt Busch is back up from 27th to 13th.

    Lap 300: Burton leads Kenseth, Earnhardt, Gordon, Edwards, Sadler, Newman, Kyle Busch, Kahne, Johnson and Hamlin. By Bristol standards, so far, this has been a very calm race.

    Lap 291: Stewart is no longer on the led lap.

    Lap 290: Harvick has recovered from his blown tire and is back up to 17th on the lead lap.

    Lap 275: Just 26 cars remain on the lead lap.

    Lap 270: Martin is still stuck in 32nd and could take a big points hit tonight.

    Lap 263: Burton has already led 152 laps as he seeks to get back in the winner's circle for the first time since Phoenix in 2001.

    Lap 261: Earnhardt gets by Gordon and is up to third place.

    Lap 260: Defending series champ and former Bristol winner Tony Stewart is 23rd, having an uncharacteristic off night.

    Tony from Vancouver, Wash.: Hey Tom, whose car seems to be the strongest tonight?

    Tom Jensen: Tony, hanks for the question. Jeff Burton looks awfully stout tonight, but Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth look good, too.

    Steve from Duluth, Minn.: What does Elliott Sadler's good showing in two consecutive races say about what was going on at Robert Yates Racing?

    Tom Jensen: Steve, t's no secret that RYR has had an awful year on almost every front. They will get the team turned around, but it will take time. Hiring Todd Parrott back will help.

    Lap 250: Halfway, Burton, leads Kenseth, Gordon, Earnhardt and Edwards.

    Caution 7

    Lap 233: Caution No. 7. Clint Bowyer lost the left-rear tire of his RCR Chevrolet in Turn 4. Stremme gets the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 237: Kurt Busch pits from second place because of a tire rub caused by the earlier contact and rejoins the field in 27th place.

    Lap 242: Green flag. Burton leads Kenseth, Gordon, Earnhardt and Edwards. 28 cars are on the lead lap.

    Lap 233: Green flag. Burton leads Kurt Busch, Kenseth, Gordon and Earnhardt.

    Caution 6

    Lap 226: Caution No. 6. Sorenson spins after a flat tire, recovers and spins again, catching the hood and left front of Kurt Busch's car. Riggs and Stremme banging on each other under yellow as Riggs falls from fourth to 22nd.

    Johnson has clinched a spot in the Chase as Scott Wimmer is out of the race.

    Lap 219: Gordon slides high, falls to fourth behind Burton, Kenseth and Busch.

    Lap 217: Green flag. Gordon leads Burton, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Riggs, Earnhardt, Edwards, Newman, Johnson and Sadler.

    Goodyear officials say Harvick's tire failure was due to a melted bead from excessive brake heat, the same thing that happened to Marlin earlier in the race.

    Caution 5

    Lap 211: Caution No. 5 for debris. Martin gets the Lucky Dog and gets back on the lead lap, finally, though he has some damage to the nose of his Roush Racing Ford. Kahne is 13th, but he's losing ground in the points race to Earnhardt, who's running sixth.

    Lap 208: Green flag.

    Lap 203: Leaders pit. Gordon makes minor contact with Stremme on pit exit. The order out is: Gordon, Burton, Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Riggs.

    Caution 4

    Lap 201: Caution No. 4. The first accident with Chase implications as Harvick blows a tire and hits Turn 4 wall. There is no Lucky Dog as Harvick went a lap down but caused the yellow

    Lap 200: Gordon leads Burton, Harvick, Riggs, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Edwards, Sadler, Ryan Newman and Earnhardt.

    Lap 193: Points leader Johnson is running a conservative 12th. If Gilliland doesn't come out of the garage, Johnson will clinch a points spot in the Chase.

    Lap 190: Martin lapped by leaders.

    Lap 185: Martin back on lead lap.

    Lap 182: Riggs is having an impressive race and is all the way up to fifth.

    Lap 180: J. Gordon takes his first lead of the evening, ducking under Burton.

    Unlike last night's Busch race, so far, the Sharpie 500 has been pretty clean.

    Lap 176: J. Gordon starting to close on race-leader Burton.

    Lap 175: Burton leads J. Gordon, Harvick, Kenseth and Earnhardt. Pole-sitter Kurt Busch is eighth.

    Lap 173: Burton puts Martin a lap down.

    Lap 167: Martin in danger of being lapped.

    Kirk: Did Kyle Busch speed on last stop? 8th to 32nd?

    Tom Jensen/Lap 163: Kyle Busch had to make a second pit stop earlier due to a missed lugnut. He came out in 31st place, but now is up 24th.

    Lap 160: Burton leads J. Gordon, Harvick, Kenseth and Earnhardt.

    Lap 158: Edwards falls all the way to sixth as his tires start to fall off.

    Lap 155: Top five: Burton, Edwards, J. Gordon, Earnhardt, Harvick.

    Lap 151: Burton passes Edwards and moves back out to the race lead.

    Lap 150: Leader Edwards has improved his short-track skills this year.

    So far, none of the Chase contenders have fallen out of the top 10 in the standings, though Martin and Kyle Busch are running 34th and 28th, respectively.

    Lap 140: The top five is Edwards, Earnhardt, Burton, Jeff Gordon and Harvick, with last night's Busch Series winner Kenseth a close sixth.

    Lap 136: Edwards passes Earnhardt very cleanly! to take the lead for the first time tonight.

    Lap 131: Martin passes Earnhardt to get back on the lead lap, though he's still in 34th place.

    Gilliland to the garage.

    Lap 125: One-quarter distance is reached. Earnhardt leads Edwards. Will we see a repeat of trouble between the two?

    Lap 120: Green flag.

    Lap 116: Leaders pit, but Earnhardt doesn't and takes lead ahead of Carl Edwards, Nemechek, Blaney and Robby Gordon. The it's Sadler, Burton, Gordon, Kurt Busch and Harvick.

    Caution 3

    Lap 114: Caution No. 3 as David Gilliland hits the wall coming out of Turn 4. David Stremme is the Lucky Dog, with Martin still a lap down in 34th.

    Lap 110: Earnhardt is coming hard. He's all the way up to 14th after starting 40th. Kahne, meanwhile, is 18th.

    Jamie from Wilkesboro, N.C.: Hello, Tom. Just wondering how the driver that had to be taken to the hospital last night in the Busch race last night is doing?

    Tom Jensen: Jamie, thanks for the question. I'm happy to report that Tim Sauter was released from the hospital today and is fine, just a little sore.

    Lap 100: Burton leads by 1.139 seconds over Busch. Kenseth is next, followed by Harvick, Gordon, Sadler, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Riggs.

    Lap 98: Michael Waltrip, J.J. Yeley bump.

    Lap 94: Green flag. Burton leads Busch, Kenseth, Harvick, Gordon, Sadler, Hamlin, Biffle, Kyle Busch and Scott Riggs.

    Lap 90: Caution is out, but none of the leaders pit. Carl Long penalized a lap for not slowing down when the caution came out and passing the pace car. Kvapil and Kenny Wallace too fast on pit road, Petty sent to end of line for pitting too soon.

    Caution 2

    Lap 88: Caution No. 2 as Kyle Petty tried to cut under Scott Wimmer and instead sent himself into the Turn 2 wall. Travis Kvapil gets the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 80: Kenseth is past Gordon for fourth. Earnhardt is up to 21st, no longer in immediate danger of being lapped.

    Lap 77: Burton passes Busch to retake first place.

    Lap 75: Greg Biffle, who qualified in 35th, is up to ninth.

    Lap 70: Busch leads Burton, Harvick, Gordon and Kenseth. Overheating concerns for Burton,

    Lap 68: Green flag. Tony Raines penalized for speeding on pit road.

    Lap 66: Mark Martin penalized one lap for pitting out of his pit stall. He's now 33rd, one lap down.

    Lap 65: Kyle Petty sent to tail end of the longest line for having his pit crew over the wall too early. Nemechek gets Lucky Dog.

    Lap 62: Leaders pit. The order out is Busch, Burton, Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kenseth, Hamlin, Sadler, Labonte, Kyle Busch and Petty.

    Caution 1

    Lap 61: Caution No. 1: Sterling Marlin hits wall after right front blows.

    Lap 60: The leaders are encountering a lot of lapped traffic, with the top five nose to tail.

    Lap 54: Kenseth takes lead in traffic. Busch closes on Burton for second.

    Lap 50: Burton leads Kenseth by 0.297 seconds. Then come Busch, Harvick and Sadler.

    Lap 43: So far, both Petty cars are running well: Labonte is sixth, Kyle Petty is seventh.

    Lap 40: Only the top 35 cars are still on the lead lap. Earnhardt is 33rd. Burton's lead is 0.854 secondsoveer Kenseth.

    Lap 35: Burton leads Kenseth, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler. No cautions... yet

    Lap 26: Leaders are already lapping the cars at the tail of the field. Earnhardt is 35th and in danger of being lapped.

    Lap 25: Jeff Gordon is 10th, Mark Martin is 12th.

    Lap 25: So far, everyone is being patient.

    Lap 20: Burton leads Kenseth, Busch, Labonte and Hamlin.

    Lap 16: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 37th, Kasey Kahne, 28th.

    Lap 13: Brian Vickers hits wall, pits for tires.

    Lap 12: Burton and Kenseth pass Busch.

    Lap 10: Busch, Burton and Kenseth break away from pack by a margin of about one second. Derrike Cope out.

    Lap 5: Busch leads Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Denny Hamlin.

    Lap 1: Kurt Busch leads the first lap at Bristol

    Lap 1: Green flag. They're off!

    Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth likely will clinch Chase spots tonight. Johnson needs only to finish 41st or better, Kenseth at least 22nd.

    It's great to see Benny Parsons back in the booth tonight. Get well, BP!

    7:50 p.m.: Cars rolling for the first of three pace laps.

    Kurt Busch has won five of the last nine races at Bristol, but tonight is his first pole here.

    Second qualifier Jeff Burton was runner-up in this race last year.

    Petty Enterprises qualified both of its cars in the top 10 for the first time in nearly five years.

    7:46 p.m.: Engines fired at Bristol!


    There arent words to describe how breathtaking it is to walk down the frontstretch at Bristol Motor Speedway and see stands filled with 165,000 people around the tiny, 0.533-mile oval.

    Its still in the high-80s, the humidity is oppressive and the noise is deafening. And if you love racing, there isnt a better place in the world to be.

    Expect a typical Bristol August race, with lots of contact, lots of cautions and lots of upset drivers. And there plenty of fast cars far back in the field: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starts 40th, one spot ahead of Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne starts 31st and Greg Biffle will begin in the 35th spot.

    Tonight will be a battle, with critical implications for the final lineup for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which will be set two weeks from tonight in Richmond.

    Joan from Charlotte, N.C.: Hi Tom! How badly will Dale Earnhardt Jr's qualifying performance (40th) hurt him tonight? And do you think the constant criticism he's been leveling at his team for the cars they prepare for him will end up helping or hurting his chances of making the Chase?

    Tom Jensen: Hello to you, too, Joan — glad you could be here on FOX tonight. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s qualifying performance potentially could be devastating if he gets caught in one of the many mid-pack wrecks sure to happen tonight. The whole thing at Bristol is to stay out of trouble, but the drivers have less control here than most anywhere else. If somebody else crashes near him, he could find himself in a mess.

    As for his complaints about his cars, he's not criticizing his team members — not at all. What he's doing is sending a message to his team owner — and stepmother — that going fast costs a lot of money, and DEI must invest heavily in state-of-the-art everything if they want to win as often as Hendrick and Roush. Spending money doesn't guarantee results in NASCAR, but not spending it guarantees failure.

    Jason from Willow Park: I know MB2 is looking to expand and I was wondering if they could merge with the Cal Wells car or Robby Gordon Motorsports although you're reporting Gordon is leaning toward adding a second car?

    Tom Jensen: Jason, thanks for being with us tonight. It should be a great evening. I think just about every team in Nextel Cup that isn't four cars now would like to get there eventually, but that's easier said than done. DEI will add a third car in 2007 and a fourth car in '08, and RCR likely will add a fourth car, too.

    I have not heard anything specific about MB2 merging, especially now that new majority owner Bobby Ginn has come on board. And my sources at RGM were pretty insistent yesterday that they want to add cars, not merge. In fact, Gordon wants to get to four cars, too, but that will take a few years.

    Rick from Stockton, Mo.: It is nice to see both Petty cars qualify in the top 10. It has been a long time coming. Do you think it is sign of things to come?

    Tom Jensen: Rick, thanks for being with us at's Instant Analysis. Petty Enterprises qualified both of its cars in the top 10 for the first time since October 2001 at Talladega. Clearly, this is a team on its way back up after a long, painful decline. How fast and how far PE gets remains to be seen, but it is absolutely headed in the right direction.

    Kevin from Germantown, Md.: After Matt Kenseth won the Busch race on Friday, "the clean pass" was put in headlines. Did we all forget that it was Matt Kenseth who sent the third-place car of Jeff Gordon spinning in the first race in Bristol? Matt is just as bad as everyone else. The media is trying to make Matt the golden child....Matt is far from that....Where is the talk about Matt spinning Gordon on the last lap at Bristol? Where were the rough driving penalties last night? Ryan Newman spinning out Reed Sorenson? Newman had all the track to pass, but he chose to spin Reed? Bad driving on Newman's part.

    Tom Jensen: Kevin, welcome and glad you could join the chat. The media isn't trying to make Matt Kenseth the golden child, just reporting the facts: Kenseth made a clean pass for the win in the Bristol Busch race and after the fact, even Kevin Harvick applauded his driving. That was the night's big news. If Kenseth dumps someone tonight, we'll say he dumped someone.

    I absolutely agree that Ryan Newman made a boneheaded move when he ran into the back of Eric McClure and drilled him into the wall. There was neither a good reason nor a good excuse for it. For the record, though, Newman hit McClure, McClure hit the wall and his car was hit by Sorenson. Newman did not run into Sorenson although Newman was the cause of the accident that took out Sorenson.

    More Bristol prerace notes

    The weather at Bristol Motor Speedway is clear, suffocatingly hot and stiflingly humid. The chance of frayed tempers, bent sheetmetal and ill will tonight is 100 percent.

    Mark Martin said he could drive in the Cup series for someone other than Roush Racing next season, at least on a part-time basis. There's certain scenarios that might bring that around, Martin said. "I'm interested in a limited schedule, and obviously I'd love to do that with Jack, but that would kind of mess up the No. 6 car. I wish they didn't have a limitation on teams." reported that Martin definitely wouldn't be back in a Roush Cup car full-time in 2007.

    The worst-kept secret in NASCAR became official Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, when Bill Davis Racing (BDR) announced that Jeremy Mayfield will drive the team's No. 36 NASCAR Nextel Cup Toyota Camry in 2007. Dave Blaney will remain in the Caterpillar-sponsored BDR No. 22 next season.

    Robby Gordon said Friday he still hasn't finalized his 2007 plans, but has learned that his one-car team is leaning towards adding a second car, rather than joining forces with Robert Yates Racing or another existing Cup team. A decision has not yet been made about whether the team will stick with Chevrolets or switch to Fords next year.

    Michael Waltrip will meet with sponsors Tuesday to present David Reutimann as the third driver for his Nextel Cup Toyota Camry team next year.

    NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow test at Michigan International Speedway on Monday has raised concerns among several top-name drivers — including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth — all of whom say the car is not where it needs to be aerodynamically.

    Jeff Burton has fallen from third to ninth in points in the last two weeks, but that's not caused him undue strain. "I think pressure is a way overused word," Burton said. "It's great to be in the mix. It's great to have people saying, 'Golly, they had a bad week last week and now that means there's a lot of pressure on them.' Pressure is when theres nothing good going on. Pressure is when youre 25th in points and not a chance in hell of getting in."

    Elliott Sadler move from a Robert Yates Ford to an Evernham Motorsports Dodge is a bit of an adjustment. "The (Dodge) Charger likes different things," Sadler said. "Me, as a driver, I have to adjust with the times and the way the team does things. I've got to use the next 13 races to reteach myself. It's like learning a new language. I have to reteach myself different ways to fix the racecar, different ways to look at things."

    Rookie sensation Denny Hamlin said his Joe Gibbs Racing team belongs in the top 10 and plans to stay there and qualify for the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

    "I know what the critics probably say but were as good a team as anybody," Hamlin said. "We prove it week in and week out. We're just trying to do what we can to maintain where we're at, and if we can do that, these next three races — performing the way that we have all year long — then we are a Chase-contending car."

    Kirsten from Medford, Wisconsin: Who do you think will win the race Saturday and who do you think will be the driver to beat?

    Tom Jensen: Kristen, thanks for joining us here at FOX. Well, Kurt Busch is the obvious favorite this weekend, winning the pole today and being fastest in both practice sessions. Keep an eye on Jeff Burton, too. He was runner-up here in the race a year ago and was the second-fastest qualifier on Friday.

    Scott from West Valley City, Utah: Tom, if you had the power to alter the "Chase," what would you do? I think if a driver gets a win during the season, they should be in. That would put more emphasis on winning. Tracks like Bristol, although extremely exciting, can make or break somebody's chances through no fault of their own. What do you think?

    Tom Jensen: Scott, that's a great question. Before we go any further, understand one basic rule: Whenever you change a rule, someone will benefit from it, and someone will be hurt by it. So some teams will like rule changes, and some will hate them. As for me, if I could change one thing, it would be the mix of tracks. There are way too many one-and-half-mile tracks for my taste.

    How about this: Start on the West Coast and work back to Florida over 10 weeks: Open the Chase with the road course at Sonoma, then go to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Texas. From there, head to the Brickyard, then Bristol, Richmond, Charlotte, Daytona and Homestead.

    Larry from Southmayd, Texas: I realize it's all a matter of being "politically correct", but why do you say Fred Lorenzen won the first NEXTEL Cup Pole in 1961?....NEXTEL didn't even exist in 1961!! I'm not sure what they called it in '61, but I'm SURE they did not call it the NEXTEL Cup Pole! I also hate it when someone says something like "Bobby Labonte won the 2000 NEXTEL Cup Championship". CORRECTION....he won the 2000 WINSTON Cup Championship! I do not have anything against NEXTEL, but let's give credit where credit is due....let's call the days of Winston Cup what they were...Winston Cup, the days before that what they were. I'll bet Dale Earnhardt would roll over in his grave if he found out all 7 of his WINSTON Cups were taken away from him! Or, as you would put it, replaced by Nextel Cups! And when I say "you", by that I mean ALL the NASCAR media.

    Tom Jensen: Larry, glad you could be with us. When NASCAR sold the naming rights to the Nextel Cup Series, part of the deal included changing all relevant historical references to the sport to say "Nextel Cup," not "Winston Cup" or "Grand National" or "Strictly Stock." I think that's stupid. Of course, I think selling naming rights to stadiums is stupid, too. But as long as the NASCAR record book says Jack Smith won the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Bristol in 1961, that's how I'm going to refer to it. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I don't think it's proper for a journalist to change the name of an event just because he or she doesn't like it.

    Bristol Prerace Notes

    The weather is expected to be warm and clear all weekend at Bristol.

    This race will be critical in determining the lineup for the Chase to the Nextel Cup, which will be set two weeks from Saturday in Richmond, Va. The gap from third-place Kevin Harvick to 11th-place Kasey Kahne is just 216 points, with Kahne just 49 markers back of 10th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. The gap from Jeff Gordon in sixth to Jeff Burton in ninth is a mere 15 points.

    Fred Lorenzen won the first Nextel Cup Series pole at Bristol in 1961, and Jack Smith won the first race.

    Bristol was reconfigured to 36-degree banking, the most acute on the current NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule, and remeasured at .533 miles for the 1969 Volunteer 500.

    The track's name was changed from Bristol International Speedway to Bristol International Raceway in 1978 and then to Bristol Motor Speedway in the fall of 1996.

    Elliott Sadler (Food City 500) and Matt Kenseth (Sharpie 500) won the Bud Poles at Bristol in 2005. They were the first two drivers other than Jeff Gordon (four) and Ryan Newman (two) to score a Bud Pole at Bristol since 2001. Qualifying was canceled this past spring.

    Kurt Busch's win this season is the first victory by a Dodge at Bristol since Richard Petty won the 1975 Volunteer 500, 61 Bristol races earlier. A Dodge, a Ford and a Chevrolet have each won in the last three races at Bristol.

    Kurt Busch has won five of the last nine races at Bristol and led in six. Busch has only competed in 11 career races at Bristol.

    Matt Kenseth has scored top 10 finishes in eight of the last nine races at Bristol, including a victory in the 2005 Sharpie 500.

    Darrell Waltrip won 12 races at Bristol, more than any other driver.

    Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon lead all active drivers with five victories each at Bristol.

    There have been 12 back-to-back victories posted at Bristol since 1980, including seven consecutive races by Darrell Waltrip and three straight by Kurt Busch. Waltrip's seven consecutive Bristol victories tied the NASCAR record for consecutive wins at one track set by Richard Petty at Richmond from 1970 through 1973.

    Brian Vickers is expected to make his 100th consecutive Nextel Cup start at Bristol Motor Speedway.

    Junior Johnson scored 21 wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, the most of any car owner. Those 21 wins were scored by: Cale Yarborough (nine), Darrell Waltrip (eight), Bobby Allison (two), Charlie Glotzbach (one) and one by Johnson himself as an owner/driver. His last Bristol victory was by Darrell Waltrip in August 1986.

    There have been four different race winners and four different car-owner wins in the last four races at Bristol.

    In the 45 years of twice-yearly Cup racing at Bristol (1961 to 2005), a sweep of both races in the same year has occurred 14 times, most recently by Kurt Busch in 2003.

    Three of the top-four in driver points have been running at the finish in every race in 2006: Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin.

    Kevin Harvick has climbed from 10th to third in the point standings since Sonoma.

    Tony Stewart has climbed from 11th to fifth in the point standings since Loudon.

    Jeff Gordon has posted four DNFs — the most of any driver ranked among the top 23.

    Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contender Denny Hamlin has scored top-10 finishes in 11 of the 23 races in 2006 (48 percent). He has scored 14 top-10s in 30 career races - 47 percent. Hamlin has scored top-10 finishes in each of the last five races and 13 top-15 finishes.

    Bonnye from Shelbyville, Texas: Your headline was "Dale's Dirty Deed?" Well, how about "NASCAR's Dirty Deed?" How do you not dock points for retaliation when you dock Robby Gordon for throwing his helmet at a car? The bloggers are right: NASCAR has NO consistency and I look for real carnage (more than usual) at Bristol this weekend. How will they justify any future penalties greater than a $20,000 slap on the wrist?

    Tom Jensen: Bonnye, hello to you in Shelbyville, Texas. Why is there seemingly little or no consistency in penalties? Two reasons:

    1. NASCAR refuses to put specific penalties for specific offenses in the rule book.
    2. Just like in pro wrestling, controversy draws attention to the sport, which is viewed as a good thing by NASCAR.

    People have burned up the Internet and sports-talk radio lines this week arguing about Junior vs. Edwards — who was right, who was wrong, was the penalty fair, etc. And that's exactly what NASCAR wants: people talking about racing. Oh yeah, there will be lots of beating and banging on Saturday. Count on it.

    Angus from Bremerton, Wash.: " the best of my knowledge, NASCAR has never penalized a driver in one series for something he did in another." Harvick was parked for the Cup race because of something that happened in in the truck series, period. Just because he didn't say he was sorry and go sit in the corner for a time-out doesn't change that fact.

    Tom Jensen: Angus, thanks for pointing that out. You're right: Harvick was parked for a Cup race after an incident in a Truck race at Martinsville. We can split hairs about why he was parked, but the fact is, he was parked.

    Cheryl from Kansas City, Kan.: I watched the race and the replays, Carl was loose on the last two restarts and yes Dale did get into him but he did not slam him. Carl took Dale out in 2004 at Atlanta and said it was not his fault and that he was racing for sponsorship for next year. Dale did not blame Car;l he just said it was a racing thing and Dale was in the Chase and i think he really might have won it if not for that wreck. Carl is always thinking of himself; he really needs anger management classes in a hurry. Jack should recommend them to him and insist he do them or his mother. Is Carl on probation for the Busch series only?

    Tom Jensen: Cheryl, glad you could be with us. I just checked with NASCAR here at Bristol, and they informed me that the probation Carl Edwards is one applies to all of NASCAR, not just the Busch Series.

    Rose from Childersburg, Ala.: Hi Tom, I wrote you earlier about the incident in the Busch race at Michigan. Well, lo and behold, who was in Birmingham, Ala. this week? Carl Edwards. He was very nice and polite with our news reporters. He was on Channel 6 in Birmingham. He answered their questions very well about he and Jr. I was impressed because Ala. is Earnhardt country. He did not slander Jr., not once. Good for you Carl Edwards.

    Tom Jensen: Rose, greetings to you in Alabama. Your impression of Carl Edwards is correct, and it's true of the vast majority of drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Most of them are really good guys. But you don't get to be one of the 43 guys who races in Cup without being aggressive and hard-edged on the track, and that's why there's often a disconnect between a driver's personality when he's strapped into a 3,400-pound race car for four hours on a 100-degree day and the same guy at a fan event. Heck, I get crabby with other drivers on public streets. I can't imagine the level of intensity the drivers feel in the race.

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