Weekend Preview: Fourth race of the season, fourth track configuration for the new Gen-6 race car
By: Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
The first three races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season have taken the drivers to the 2.5-mile superspeedway of Daytona International Speedway, the relatively flat one-mile Phoenix International Raceway and the 1.5-mile fast intermediate Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each configuration has presented the drivers with a unique challenge, setting each race experience apart from the others.
This Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (noon, FOX) is no different. At .533 miles, the high-banked northeastern Tennessee track is the first short track on the schedule, and is the first time new Gen-6 race cars will compete on a short track.
While drivers thrive on competition, Bristol seems to take drivers' competiveness to a new level, providing some of the most intense, side-by-side racing on the NASCAR circuit. Drivers have to stay up on the wheel and be ready for anything to happen at any time. The new Gen-6 cars will add a certain wild-card element to the race, with everyone paying close attention to how they perform.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how the (Gen-6) cars race there," said Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, who is currently 16th in points. "I think it will be a really exciting and aggressive race.
"You are up on the wheel for all 500 laps of the race."
One driver many pundits expect to be near the front, if not leading the race, toward the end is Kyle Busch, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The 27-year-old from Las Vegas has found great success in Bristol, winning five of the 16 races he's entered.
The fans have even given the track a nickname brandishing one of his own nicknames, "Rowdy's House."
"I'm not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol," said Busch, who is currently 17th in points standings. "I've just had a lot of success there, but I've also had some misfortune there, too.
"When they changed the track to this current surface, I just really took to it right away. I really like it and I've been fast there, but also I've had great race cars from Joe Gibbs Racing."
Busch shares the record for most wins at Bristol among active drivers with his older brother, Kurt, and Jeff Gordon, both of whom should also be listed among the favorites this weekend. The last time the older Busch won at Bristol was in 2006, while Gordon's last celebration in Bristol's Victory Lane took place in 2002.
While Ryan Newman has never won a race at the track, he could capture the pole at the track where he earned his nickname "Rocketman" during 2003 qualifying. A pole this weekend would be the 50th of his career, a club in which only eight drivers currently belong.
More than starting on the pole this weekend, Newman is focused on what it takes to take to win the race and, more importantly, improve upon his 31st points ranking.
"First thing that comes to mind is patience because it can be a track that really challenges your mentality," said Newman. "It's that mental stamina of controlling your emotions and controlling the race car according to your emotions and making the best of all the situations you are in."
By the end of the race, teams should have plenty of information on the new Gen-6 race car and how it handles on similar tracks -- material they'll be able to use in preparation for the remaining short-track events.
HORNISH SAVORING THE MOMENT
They say the other side of the fence is always greener.
Sam Hornish Jr. would probably have to agree.
After experiencing great success in the IndyCar Series with three championships and a win in the 2006 Indianapolis 500, Hornish has finally hit his stride.
This season, he's jumped the fence and now stands firmly rooted in greener pastures. After three races, he stands alone atop the points, a place he wants to enjoy for as long as possible.
Riding high off his win last Saturday in Las Vegas, Hornish and the rest of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford head to Bristol, Tenn., the "greenest state in the land of the free" (according to the "Ballad of Davy Crockett"), for Saturday's Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300 (1 p.m., ESPN2). His win was the first this season by a NASCAR Nationwide Series regular.
"It feels fantastic to be in the position that we are right now," said Hornish. "Greg (Erwin), myself and everyone on the team have been working, practicing and planning for every contingency.
"So far it has paid off; we are still getting better too, which makes us confident that we are doing the right things."
Hornish currently holds a 19-point advantage over a trio of drivers: Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott. In order to hold all three drivers at bay, Hornish will need to build upon the momentum from the first three weeks, where he's garnered one win, two top fives and three top 10s.
In three Nationwide starts at Bristol, he has finishes of 14th, 13th and 10th. Although they're not bad finishes, Hornish will probably need to finish better than 10th this weekend if he wants to put more distance between him and his pursuers.