It will be no shock if Food City 500 produces surprise winner
So far this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Toyotas have put an old-fashioned butt-whipping on the field leading up to Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).
-- Joe Gibbs Racing swept the front row in qualifying and put all four of the team's Toyotas in the top five on the grid. Carl Edwards will start on the pole, flanked by JGR teammate Matt Kenseth.
-- JGR drivers were fastest in all three practices Friday and Saturday.
-- In the final Happy Hour round of practice, there were four Toyotas in the top five, including three from JGR.
So Sunday's 500-lapper at the high-banked Bristol track is going to be another Toyotathon, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
Without question, the smart money will be on the JGR Toyotas Sunday, but here are a four reasons not to assume it will be a JGR slam dunk.
4. THE WEATHER -- The teams practiced in the relative cool of the morning Saturday at Bristol. Race-time conditions on Sunday should be about 20 degrees warmer than they were Friday and Saturday, and there will be a lot more rubber on the track, thanks to Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
The bottom line is that the track will be a lot different on Sunday than it has been at any other point this weekend. Some teams will hit the setups better than others, which means somebody who was just so-so in practice might be a lot faster on Sunday.
3. THE INSIDE LANE -- There are two lanes at Bristol, only one of which is suitable for passing. The outside lane is far and away the preferred one, because in most cases, drivers simply can't pass on the inside.
If there's a late-race restart and one or more of the fastest cars get stuck on the bottom, they will have little or no chance to win.
We saw that in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Kyle Busch said his car stumbled on restarts, but even when he got up to speed on the last restart, he good get no higher than second.
2. 500 LAPS -- An awful lot can happen in 500 laps at Bristol and it can happen very, very quickly, given that laps flash by in just about 15 seconds. The biggest danger for one of the fastest cars is getting caught in a wreck among the backmarkers.
More than that, though, drivers and teams will have to be vigilant about not losing track position through slow pit stops, pit-road penalties and/or bad restarts.
A late-race caution cost Kyle Larson a victory in the XFINITY race at Bristol. The same thing well could happen to someone else on Sunday.
1. THE COMPETITION -- Yeah, the Toyota armada is impressive. No question about it. But there are some pretty good Chevrolets and Fords in the field, too.
Joey Logano, winner of the last two August Bristol races, is the only non-Toyota driver to start in the top five. He'll roll off third in his Team Penske Ford, with teammate Brad Keselowski, also a two-time Bristol winner, not far back in 12th.
In the Chevrolet camp, rookie Chase Elliott has been impressive, running second in each of Saturday's two practices. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson have shown speed, too.
Any of these guys can win and put a stop to the Toyota dominance.
Of course, "can" and "will" are very different.
We won't know until late Sunday afternoon whether anyone has anything for JGR.
But don't be surprised if there's an unexpected winner rolling into Victory Lane at Bristol.