Mark my words; it has all of the makings of a Saturday night showdown when 43 teams from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series takes the green flag for the Irwin Tools 500. Anytime you place that many cars on a half mile track there is bound to be some sort of driver road rage that frequently becomes motorized mayhem. It’s not a question of will it happen, its more a question of when will it happen and how many times will we see it. The Irwin Tools 500 is going to be more than worth staying home on a Saturday night to watch.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
We all know what the major story line is. It is, of course, the 12 man line up for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Series points leader Kevin Harvick has already clinched his spot in the Chase based on last Sunday’s win at Michigan. It’s expected that the top nine will follow suit over the next two races.
With only three races left before the 12 man Chase line up is locked in, the drama is located at the very bottom of the list. Clint Bowyer, and his #33 Richard Childress Racing team, sits in the coveted 12th position. But he’s now where near being safe regarding his Chase status. Mark Martin is only 35 points away in 13th and plans on becoming the third team to make the Chase from Hendrick Motorsports.
Behind Martin are four drivers whose Chase hopes are treading water. A win, combined with some strong finishes, within the next three races will greatly help their cause. However, they are still going to have to depend on a low finish from Bowyer and Martin to make the top 12.
Leading that group is Ryan Newman who is 14th in the standings and 103 points away from the top 12. Newman took the green flag at Michigan last Sunday a workable 83 points out. But an early race altercation with Joey Logano cost an angry Newman an additional 20 points and led to the situation he’s in right now.
Jamie McMurray holds down the 15th spot in the standings and is 105 points from 12th. He’s followed by Kasey Kahne at -126 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at -129. Mathematically speaking these four drivers have not been officially eliminated from making this year’s Chase. But in reality they’re going to need something extremely dramatic at this point in time.
On the topic of Ryan Newman and Joey Logano’s Michigan altercation, expect to see video replays of their moment both on and off the track. You will likely hear the suggestion that Bristol is a perfect place to extract retaliation and that’s basically true. But don’t expect it. Newman clearly has some digging to do and his focus is going to be on that 12th spot in the Chase line up.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s no longer angry at Logano who criticized him for racing too hard too early in the race. In an interview comment this week Newman was quoted to say that he didn’t know if there was such a thing as racing too hard and further stated “four races to go for the Chase and we are trying to get ourselves in that top 12. He’s not smart enough to understand this position, but he needs to take the time and realize that it’s not all about him.”
THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN
Despite a field loaded with multiple Bristol winners, the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), believes that Jimmie Johnson is going to win his second Irwin Tools 500 and has placed him on top of their list at 5 to 1 odds.
Right behind Johnson are the Busch brothers. Kyle Busch is a three time Bristol winner in the Cup ranks, has a win there in the Nationwide Series and won last Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol for the third year in a row. The WSE has him ranked at 6 to 1 to win Saturday night. Older brother Kurt Busch is a five time Bristol winner, with some impressive stats at this track, yet amazingly is ranked at 7 to 1. The driver of the Miller Lite Dodge would make a very solid wager.
At 10 to 1 is the duo of Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Edwards is a two time Cup winner at Bristol and a single winner there in the Nationwide Series. Stewart has a single Cup win there. Both are seeking their first win of the season and each will be looking to solidify their presence in the Chase line up.
The 12 to 1 grouping is led by someone who also must be considered to be a solid wager. Five time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon leads this group. He’s second in the standings, guaranteed to make the Chase and that means he can be expected to race a little harder to collect those ten bonus points that comes with winning to get a better position when the Chase starts next month. The law of averages says that this team is bound to close the deal sooner or later this year and Bristol is a very good opportunity for them. Kevin Harvick is also in this group. Harvick has already clinched his Chase berth and can also afford to race a little harder to collect those bonus points. He’s a former Cup winner at Bristol and has won five Nationwide events there. Greg Biffle completes the 12 to 1 category and has been having some strong runs lately especially after his recent return to victory lane at Pocono.
Looking at the mid pack from the WSE’s rankings this week Denny Hamlin and former Bristol winner Jeff Burton are rated at 15 to 1. Two time race winner Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer are 20 to 1 while the duo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne are ranked at 25 to 1.
At the lower end of the rankings you will find Bristol winner Dale Earnhardt Jr and Joey Logano at 30 to1. Also in this group is Mark Martin who is a two time winner and leads the Sprint Cup top five and top ten finish stats at Bristol. Martin is 12th in the standings and it’s possible that he may consider a points racing posture to insure a Chase berth in three weeks.
Jamie McMurray has a solo ranking of 35 to 1 this week while the trio of Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr and David Reutimann closes the WSE list at 40 to 1.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants to remind you that these posted numbers are for information and entertainment purposes and they do not encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races. If you follow that philosophy then you’re a fantasy gambler. A fantasy bet doesn’t cost you anything, they make great water cooler conversations at work and they won’t get you in any trouble at home. But if you prefer reality over fantasy, a good choice might turn out to be placing a Benjamin on Jeff Gordon at 12 to 1 and then place a back up Benjamin on Kurt Busch at 7 to 1.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Irwin Tools 500 is 500 laps/266.5 miles around the Bristol Motor Speedway’s .533 mile concrete oval.
The track features challenging progressive banking, 24 to 30 degrees in the turns and 4 to 9 degrees on the straight-aways. The turns are connected by short straight-aways measuring 650 feet long by 43 feet wide.
Entering and exiting pit road is also very challenging at Bristol because the speedway has two of them divided into 22 stalls on the front stretch and 21 stalls on the back stretch. Under green flag conditions the drivers will have to enter the pits off of turn two and then drive all the way around to return to the track off of turn one. The pit stalls are also going to be a challenge for the Sprint Cup teams. They only measure 25.5 feet long by 15.5 feet wide. The pit road speed is a strictly enforced 30 MPH.
The grandstands are also highly unique at the Bristol Motor Speedway. They literally stretch all the way around the race track and can accommodate 160,000 fans.
The Irwin Tools 500 is a landmark event because it will be the 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the speedway.
The race has 49 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. 15 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not automatically guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of the top 35 in NASCAR owner’s points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speed to make the race.
The defending race winner from 2009 is Kyle Busch. Jimmie Johnson won the first Bristol race of 2010 last March.
Darrell Waltrip leads the all time win list at Bristol with 12. Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch lead the modern day active drivers with five wins each.
In the manufacturer’s win stats Chevrolet tops the list with 42 trips to the Bristol victory lane followed by Ford at 33, Dodge at 6 and Toyota at two.
Mark Martin owns the finish stats at Bristol with 16 top fives and 23 top tens.
Martin also has the most pole positions there with nine.
Ryan Newman owns the track qualifying record, 128.709 MPH, set in March of 2003.
The Irwin Tools 500 will be broadcast live Saturday night by ABC Sports beginning at 730 pm eastern time. Race rebroadcasts will be Monday morning, 230 am et, on ESPN2 and Wednesday afternoon, 12 pm et, on SPEED.
At least we hope the race will be broadcast Saturday evening. The weather forecast calls for cloudy skies on Saturday with a 40% chance of isolated thunder showers and daytime highs of 88 degrees. The Sunday forecast calls for a 50% chance of scattered thunder storms. If Monday becomes a necessity there is only a 10% chance of rain under cloudy skies.