Friday, March 15, 2013

Hungry like a wolf: Five questions before Bristol

Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR

If tracks were animals, Bristol would be a wolf. A snarling, predatory, ravenous wolf, waiting for a taste of its first victim. However, Bristol craves sheet metal, not blood. It hunts racecars instead of wimpy prey. Burnouts and confetti highlight the success, not a hasty feast afterward.

If you haven’t caught on, this track is more volatile than any other on the circuit. Whenever you hear the word Bristol, it conjures up those rivalries you always see: Gordon vs. Kenseth, Harvick vs. Biffle, Stewart’s helmet vs. Kenseth’s hood, and most notably, “I was just trying to rattle his cage.” The Bristol Spark, as I like to call it, lights drivers up like a stick of dynamite, morphing them into drivers who will do anything for a win.

But, Bristol is the wolf. It’s silently breathing, still as the night, preparing to lurch and ruin an unsuspecting driver’s day.

I am questioning the wolf and what misery it may bring this Sunday.

Will Michael Waltrip Racing impress us again at Bristol? Last time we raced in Tennessee in the spring, the MWR group stepped up; all three cars were in the top ten, with the highlight being Brian Vickers. That race was Vickers’ first race in Mark Martin’s No. 55, and he definitely earned his keep by coming in fifth. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. also fared well, finishing fourth and 11th. Definitely put those guys on your fantasy roster.

Can Kyle Busch rise from the smoke of past engine problems? Bristol is known to get rowdy, and Rowdy gets Bristol. The youngest Busch brother has won five times at the coliseum, including a win that completed his weekend sweep. After a much-needed decent run at Las Vegas, Busch is looking for a win to make up for those terrible results at Daytona and Phoenix. If TRD has gotten their stuff together, then it is a good possibility. However, if this is the falling action, there are more rough days ahead for Rowdy.

How many cars will end up on the lead lap? Twenty? Nine? Sixteen? Nobody knows for sure, but there’s no doubt that this is the race that sheet metal suppliers have circled on their calendars. Bristol in NASCAR-ese means "carnage," you know.

Restart rules are meant to be broken . . .? As many have noticed, especially Jimmie Johnson, there have been some very questionable restarts already this year. It seems that the restart box, the area where the leader begins his charge, has been neglected, and its feelings have been hurt. If you’re the leader when the caution comes out, you have earned the right to start the race however you want - it’s the driver’s personal code of conduct to determine what’s dirty and what’s fair. If you are second to the leader, then you can’t pass him. Rules are rules, and some try to flex them enough to contort them into a different shape. But, if you try to hold up the line to skew the start in your favor at Bristol, you’ll get punted. Hard.

Will we see a fourth different winner? First a Chevy, then a Ford and now a Toyota. Each manufacturer now has a win under its belt, and we have a hazy opinion of the Gen-6. So, which make will repeat? More importantly, who will be wheeling that machine? It seems like some drivers are hitting their stride, like Busch, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski. Will they be a factor on Sunday? Or will it be some drivers we haven’t heard much noise from, such as Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton or Kevin Harvick? The sparks will fly and fade where they may and there’s nothing we can do about it until it happens.

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