The marketing department at Bristol Motor Speedway hails the half-mile bowl of head-numbing noise as “The Last Great Coliseum.” The structure of the track certainly invokes the spirit of ancient gladiatorial fights, but the best comparison to its combatants might be one that came 18 centuries later.
Some 19th century artists — Vincent van Gogh is an easy example — were masterful in their work, but tortured in how they went about it. In two races following a completely irrational reconfiguration of Bristol’s high banks, some of its best drivers have been entertaining to watch but tortured in their attempts at good finishes.
7.375 Denny Hamlin ranks second in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Production in Equal Equipment Ratings (PEER) at Bristol in the last two races with a 7.375 rating.
That’s seriously not bad for a driver who cut a tire towards the end of this spring’s event, finishing 23rd as a result. He followed that up by participating in a spat with Joey Logano that was a part of a butterfly effect, leading to an accident the following race at Auto Club Speedway, an injured back that sidelined him from competing in four races and, in a lot of ways, the cruddy situation in which he now finds himself (his average finish in the last nine races this season is 27.2).
He was victorious in the first race on the new Bristol configuration. That win is only a year old, but it seems like it happened over a decade ago.
110 Matt Kenseth has led 110 laps (11 percent of the total) across the last two Bristol races. He finished 25th and 30th in last year’s race and this spring’s event, respectively.
Last year, Kenseth and Tony Stewart crashed while battling for the lead, after which Stewart launched a helmet at Kenseth’s car, living forever in future Bristol ticket sales television spots. Earlier this season, he and Jeff Gordon crashed while running 1-2. The fact that Kenseth has been kept from finishing an event on the lead lap on the current configuration is just cruel; for all we know, he might the best driver on this version of Bristol but without the results to show for it.
3 of 4 In the last four races at Bristol, Brad Keselowski has finished third or better, with two wins.
It looked like we might be headed toward a Keselowski Dynasty at Thunder Valley prior to the reconfiguration. He crashed just after the halfway point of last year’s night race, relegating him to a 30th-place finish. His third-place outing and 62 laps led in the spring was a sign of life that he might also be adept on the new track. Faced with the task of defending his current eighth-place spot in the standings, staying out of trouble might be priority number one for the No. 2 team.
2.96 The finish deviation of Joey Logano’s No. 22 team in 10 of the last 12 races this season is an extremely consistent 2.96.
In finish deviation, the closest to zero you get, the better. Logano’s 6.9-place finish in those 10 races is amazingly consistent and, as I mentioned last week, ideal in a run to the Chase. Bristol provides a challenge in the ilk of a 500-lap obstacle course. Logano ranks fifth in Bristol PEER (4.750) and has led in both races during the discussed two-race time frame. His run-in with Hamlin kept him from a high finish earlier this year (he finished 17th), but there’s no guarantee that more drama of that nature will occur. A three-time race winner in the Cup Series, he has never scored consecutive victories. With the way his team is operating, there’s more than a good chance of it happening this weekend.
6 Brian Vickers and the No. 55 team have averaged a sixth-place finish in the last two Bristol races.
Job security has different effects on workers. Some become more motivated; others become complacent. This weekend will serve as the first Cup Series race since Vickers was hired to wheel the No. 55 full time in 2014. Will the alleviation of uncertainty play a role in Vickers’s result? Vickers and crew chief Rodney Childers have been excellent together on the half-mile oval, a three-race relationship that also includes a fifth-place run in the spring of 2012 on the previous configuration. Statistically, there is plenty of reason to expect a lot out of Vickers in this particular race, but whether the comfort level affects the urgency in which he previously raced remains to be seen.
17.3% Kyle Busch has led 17.3 percent (1,066) of the total laps in the Cup Series this season, which is second only to Jimmie Johnson (18.5 percent).
Busch’s tendency to lead lots of laps could play out well at Bristol, a track that sees its drivers lead laps by the barrel full. If passing comes at a premium, so be it. Bristol is Busch’s kind of track and, with an average finish of 11.4, he has been the most productive Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the last 10 races. The other driver with a serious propensity to own Saturday night’s event also comes from the Busch bloodline.
6.5 Save for Michigan (he led 21 laps and finished 35th) and New Hampshire (he led 102 laps and finished 31st), Kurt Busch and his Furniture Row Racing team have averaged a 6.5-place finish in the last 10 races.
Is it time for the seemingly inevitable Kurt Busch breakthrough victory? He finished fourth at Bristol in the spring. For a team clinging to a Chase spot, some insurance — and they didn’t get to this point by being conservative — would be welcomed. Between this weekend and next (Atlanta), Busch is visiting two facilities that have been very kind to him in the past. For the five-time Bristol winner and three-time Atlanta winner, the stars (and numbers) seem to be aligning for something big in the immediate future.
For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to myglossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.