Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Bristol II

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Track history: Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) was built after Larry Carrier and Carl Moore saw a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960. They wanted to build a smaller version of CMS in Tennessee and decided on a half-mile oval. Work began on a former dairy farm in 1960 and a year later the speedway was born with 22 degree banking in the turns. 18,000 fans attended the first NASCAR race at BMS in 1961. The track was reshaped in 1969 with the turns banked at 36 degrees. After the reshaping it became a 0.533-mile oval.

In August of 1992 the track was resurfaced from the original asphalt to become the first speedway to host a NASCAR Cup event on a concrete surface. In March 2007, right after the Food City 500, a multimillion-dollar project of removing and replacing the concrete racing surface, asphalt apron, pit road and all the retaining walls around the track was started. Conditions do not change during a race because concrete isn't as sensitive to weather changes like an asphalt paved track.

In 2012, between the March and August races, BMS went through a milling process to remove the progressive banking that was put in place in the 2007 resurfacing. The purpose was to eliminate the third upper groove and bring the field back down to a close racing two-groove track.

Since the straightaways are only 650 feet long on the 0.533-mile oval, the drivers are constantly braking, turning and accelerating which makes for a demanding race. The key to passing at Bristol is to be at the bottom in the turns and getting a good run off the corners. That's why shocks, springs and brakes are critical in the race setup.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Brad Keselowski 3/18/12, Brad Keselowski 8/27/11, Kyle Busch 3/20/11, Kyle Busch 8/21/10 and Jimmie Johnson 3/21/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): AJ Allmendinger 3/25/07, Regan Smith 3/25/07 and Terry Cook 3/21/10.
First Cup pole: Steve Park 3/26/00, Jeff Green 8/25/01 and Joey Logano 3/21/10.
First Cup win: Elliott Sadler 3/25/01 and Kurt Busch 3/24/02.

July 30, 1961: Fred Lorenzen started the No. 28 Holman-Moody 1961 Ford on the pole for the Volunteer 500, the first Bristol Cup race. He made it through 175 laps of the 500 lap event before losing the rear end and finished 33rd. Jack Smith, who started 12th in his own No. 46 Pontiac, led the most laps (243) and earned $3,025 for the inaugural BMS victory.

August 27, 2011: Brad Keselowski won the IRWIN Tools Night Race from an eighth place start. It was the No. 2 Dodge driver’s third victory of 2011 and his first at Bristol. Pole-sitter, No. 39 Ryan Newman, led 4 laps and finished in 8th place. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 76 laps, finished fourth; winner Keselowski 89 laps; No. 17 Matt Kenseth 110 laps, finished sixth and No. 24 Jeff Gordon led the most laps (206) and finished third.

March 18, 2012: Brad Keselowski won the Food City 500 from a fifth place start. It was the No. 2 Dodge driver’s first victory and second top-10 finish in 2012. It was his second consecutive victory and second top-10 finish in five races at Bristol. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: Pole-sitter, No. 16 Greg Biffle 41 laps, finished 13th; No. 17 Matt Kenseth 45 laps, finished second; No. 22 AJ Allmendinger 54 laps, finished 17th; No. 55 Brian Vickers 125 laps, finished fifth and winner Keselowski led the most (232 of 500 laps).

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. There were 47 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race in Bristol, Tennessee.

Mid-Pack picks
Bristol is a track where Jamie McMurray is considered a “charger”. The No. 1 Chevy driver is ranked No. 1 in NASCAR’s loop data category for Green Flag passes. Over the last 15 races here McMurray has passed 794 cars under green flag racing. He has also scored the second-most championship points (behind track favorite Kyle Busch) in the last five Bristol Cup races. Another good reason to look at McMurray is the fact he brings the car home. Of all the drivers entered this weekend with at least 19 Bristol starts he’s the only one who finished all of his races. He has a decent 17.1 average finish at this tough track. This is a good week to look at McMurray.

Here we go again with the man from ‘down-under’. In only seven Cup starts at Thunder Valley, Marcos Ambrose earned the third highest rank in the loop data “Quality Passes” category. He passed cars 195 times while running in the top-15. He has an 18.1 average finish and a best finish of third (August 2009). Back in March, he was involved in an early multi-car wreck (not his doing) and finished over 100 laps down in 36th place. His two races in 2011 resulted in finishes of 15th and 10th. A 10th place finish at Pocono Raceway, followed by the victory at Watkins Glen and a fifth last weekend in the Irish Hills of Michigan tells us Ambrose is looking like a Chase possibility.

Brian Vickers entered five races so far this season in the No. 55 Camry and has an average finish of 17th place. In his fifth start (Watkins Glen), he blew the engine right after the green flag dropped and was credited with a 43rd place DNF. Take out that “start” and he has a 10.5 average finish including a fifth at Bristol in March. He also led 125 laps in that race as well. Overall, Vickers has not been exceptional at Bristol but we’re picking him based on his 2012 performance in his part-time ride.

We have picked Jeff Burton a few times this season and he has not done much for our credibility but we think that will change this week. In the last seven Sprint Cup races at Bristol, Burton’s worst finish was a 20th place in the March 2011 race. During that stretch of races, he scored three top-tens including a sixth in the March 2012 Food City 500. We think the No. 31 Chevrolet driver will pull through with another top 15 or better in this Saturday night's race.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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