USA TODAY Sports’ Brant James tells you what to watch for at the Food City 500 in Bristol, including who’s got the best chance to come away victorious.
USA TODAY Sports
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch had two wins and entered the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway leading the points standings a year ago. Kevin Harvick had a victory and was third. Denny Hamlin kicked off the season with a victory at the Daytona 500 and was eighth.
This season, they share another common bond – a surprising zero wins as the Cup calendar turns to Bristol.
Rain forced postponement of the Food City 500 to 1 p.m. ET on Monday, meaning those three will have to wait another day to secure their first victory of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
“We’ve just thrown away points, if points matter, week in and week out,” Busch said earlier this month in Martinsville, Va., after one of only two top-five finishes over the first seven races. “We’ve just got to somehow get our luck better. I don’t know what it is that just keeps knocking us back that we don’t have things kind of go our way, but they just haven’t been going our way, so we’ve just got to keep plugging along until they do.”
Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch’s team, piled up 12 victories last season and pushed Toyota toward its first manufacturer title at NASCAR’s premier level. But the team has yet to win through the first seven races.
“I think I know where we are at this point and the things we need to work on, and by no means are we at the top,” Hamlin said earlier this month, per The Associated Press. “We as a company have a good idea of where we’re at, but I don’t think people from the outside can really make a judgment until probably eight to nine races.”
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There also have been some surprise winners this year – with Kurt Busch at the Daytona 500 after several other would-be victors ran out of fuel, and Ryan Newman at Phoenix Raceway on a late pit stop strategy. It was Newman’s first win since July 2013.
Kyle Busch enters Monday’s race seventh in the standings and Hamlin – who clings to the 16th slot – would be the only other JGR driver to make NASCAR’s 16-driver postseason as of Sunday.
Former champion Matt Kenseth, who has JGR’s only other top-five finish this season, is 22nd in the standings, one spot ahead of JGR rookie Daniel Suarez, who was promoted to Cup earlier than expected when Carl Edwards left the team in the offseason.
All four JGR drivers (Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth and Edwards) made the playoff last season and each survived to the round of eight. Jimmie Johnson edged Busch, Edwards and Joey Logano for his record-tying seventh title, in the four-driver finale in November.
Besides the JGR drivers, Team Penske’s Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick also made the round of eight last postseason and each are still searching for their first win of this season. Johnson (Texas Motor Speedway on April 9) and Kurt Busch (Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26) are the only active drivers who made the round of eight in 2016 to win so far this year.
Harvick has won here twice, including the last time Cup raced here, in August.
“It’s really just a matter (of) putting a weekend together,” Harvick said. “It’s really no different than any other racetrack. This business is hard to be successful at and sometimes you go through years where short tracks are good and some years not so good. … I enjoy the short tracks because we don’t get to go to quite as many as I think we’d all like.”
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