Long List Of Favorites Hoping To Tame Bristol Concrete


Denny Hamlin hopes to earn his first spring win at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday. (Matthew T. Thacker/LAT for Toyota Racing photo)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – There’s an all-star cast of drivers who have proven over the years they have what it takes to get the job done at Bristol Motor Speedway.

That stout contingent of drivers will put it all on the line Sunday afternoon during the sport’s return to concrete racing in the springtime at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Perhaps first in line among the pre-race favorites to win the legendary Food City 500 is Christopher Bell, who won here last spring on the Bristol dirt in the final year of a three-year run on the clay that took the sport back to its roots around NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season.

Bell has proven over the years he knows the preferred line around the .533-mile bullring that’s been called the “Holy Grail of Short Tracks”.

The Norman, Okla., native took the win on the dirt but feels just as confident on the Bristol concrete, having posted finishes of third and fourth the last two seasons at America’s Night Race.

“I love racing Bristol,” Bell said recently. “It’s literally my favorite race on the schedule. I’m very thankful we get to go twice this year. It’s a track we have excelled at the last couple of times we have been there – we’ve been close.”

Another top contender is looking for a little payback from Bristol after getting knocked out of the playoffs last year in a mid-race crash. Joey Logano has won enough at Bristol on both dirt and concrete to be reckoned with, and he will be looking to add another famed BMS Gladiator Sword to his collection if he can keep his No. 22 Team Penske machine out of trouble.

“The track always changes from what you have there in practice and qualifying to what you have by the end of the race so it’s always cool,” said Logano, who won the Bristol Night Race in 2014 and 2015 and claimed the inaugural Food City Dirt Race in 2021. “I like Bristol, it’s my favorite track. I love going there and having that great stadium environment with the fans right there on top of you.

“It’s always a tough, grueling 500 laps around there.”

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Reigning Night Race winner Denny Hamlin feels like he might have a leg up on the competition if he goes back to last September’s setup and continues to keep the crowd upset if he can “beat all their favorite drivers” like he famously said following his win last September.

Hamlin will try to capture his fourth Bristol win at the controls of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and first in the Food City 500. He says the fans always get him revved up inside ‘The Last Great Colosseum.’

“The energy is why I love this track,” Hamlin has said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s cheers or boos,  you’ve earned the right to be on that stage for that given moment. … But to have just the electricity, that’s fun. It’s really fun in NASCAR to have that many passionate fans one way or another.

“It’s something that’s good for our sport.”

Last but not least of the pre-race favorites is Kyle Busch, the active win leader at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile with nine Bristol Cup Series victories, including eight on concrete and one on dirt. However, all of those wins came in a Toyota, and Busch now drives the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

The Las Vegas native and two-time Cup Series champion is chomping at the bit to try and grab another Food City 500 victory, since his most recent spring win at Bristol came in April of 2019.

Busch will try to sweep the race weekend, as he is also entered in the No. 7 Chevy Silverado in the WEATHER GUARD Truck Race on Saturday night. Busch is the only driver in NASCAR history to ever sweep a triple at a race, accomplishing that feat at Bristol in both 2010 and 2017.

“I love Bristol,” Busch said. “Bristol is always fun and has got more challenging over the years, and it’s a little bit difficult to pass there now. The challenge there is the amount of banking and the load you see there. There’s just no time to relax and rest and that just wears on you lap after lap after lap, the repetitious nature of it.

“It’s been a while since I have been able to race the Truck race there and I am looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of a truck at Bristol.”

The list to watch also includes defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, who is seeking his first Bristol win in the Cup Series; multi-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski; recent Bristol Night Race winner Chris Buescher; and the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and William Byron.

Three rookies will also take their turn at trying to join the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, in the record book as a rookie that was able to win at Bristol Motor Speedway.

So far, Earnhardt’s amazing effort in 1979 has stood the test of time, but Josh Berry, Carson Hocevar, and Zane Smith will give it a shot this season to try and join the NASCAR icon as the second rookie to accomplish the feat.

The Bristol race weekend also will feature Saturday afternoon’s Bush’s Beans Practice and Bush’s Beans Qualifying for both the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series which will set the starting lineups for each race prior to Saturday night’s WEATHER GUARD Truck Race.

Broadcast coverage of Sunday’s Food City 500 is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, the Performance Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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