Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Food City 500

Thursday, March 14, 2013

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 race setup is critical at this track.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Denny Hamlin 8/25/12, Brad Keselowski 3/18/12, Brad Keselowski 8/27/11, Kyle Busch 3/20/11 and Kyle Busch 8/21/10.
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.

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 Race-winner Keselowski led the most (232 of 500 laps).

August 25, 2012: Denny Hamlin won the IRWIN Tools Night Race, from an eighth place start. It was the No. 11 Toyota driver's third victory and 12th top-10 finish in 2012 and his first victory in 14 races at Bristol. Drivers leading 25 or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth 25 laps, finished 25th; Pole-sitter No. 13 Casey Mears 26 laps, finished 21st; No. 16 Greg Biffle 41 laps, finished 19th; No. 5 Kasey Kahne 42 laps, finished ninth; No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 44 laps, finished 11th; No. 99 Carl Edwards 45 laps, finished 22nd; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 52 laps, finished second; Race-winner Hamlin led 70 laps and No. 20 Joey Logano led the most laps (139 of 500) and finished eighth.

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 20 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Food City 500 in Bristol, Tennessee.

Mid-Pack picks
In the 2012 Food City 500, Brian Vickers made the first of eight starts in his shared ride at Michael Waltrip Racing. He led 125 laps and finished in fifth place. The summer night race at BMS was also on his schedule; he finished fourth. In 16 Sprint Cup starts at Bristol, his average finish of 22.1 is not great but the Nationwide Series full-timer has been very successful driving a part-time Cup schedule. He had five top-10 finishes in his eight 2012 starts. Vickers might have had another; the engine exploded on the first lap of his start at Watkins Glen International. It impressed MWR enough to sign him for nine 2013 races, including all six Bristol, Martinsville and Loudon short track events. Find a spot for the No. 55 Toyota this week.

Joey Logano earned his first-career pole at Bristol in 2010 and became the youngest pole winner in Sprint Cup Series history. In eight Cup starts here, his average start is a 9.4 but his average finish is the same as Vickers (22.1). Logano improved that some to a 12.3 for his last three trips to the “World’s Fastest Half Mile”. As noted above, he led the most laps (139 of 500) and finished eighth in the August 2012 night race. He has also logged one win and six top-10s in eight Nationwide Series races at this track. All of his BMS history came from his former rides at Joe Gibbs Racing but he seems to be adapting well to the Penske Racing No. 22 Ford Fusion. Logano is worth looking at for a top 20 or better on Sunday.

Marcos Ambrose has built an impressive short-track record. In eight Cup starts at Bristol, he has a 16.5 average finish. In his first start at the track, the 2009 Food City 500, he qualified 13th, ran as high as second, drove the last 50 laps on seven cylinders and still managed a 10th place finish. His best two finishes were a third in August 2009 and a fifth in August 2012. Ambrose is ranked near the top in NASCAR Statistics loop data “Quality Passes” category. He passed cars 223 times (more than 1/2 of his total green-flag passes for those races) while running in the top-15. He also spent close to 60% of the time running in the top-15. This is a good week to put the aggressive driver on your team.

Our deepest pick for a top-20 or better at Bristol is Jeff Burton. He knows where victory lane is at the track. He picked up a Nationwide Series win here in 1997 and a Sprint Cup victory in the 2008 Food City 500. What has he done lately? Prior to the August 2012 night race, Burton’s worst finish over the previous seven Cup races at Bristol was a 20th place. In those races, he scored three top-tens including a sixth in the March 2012 Food City 500. Back to August 2012; he qualified sixth and was running around 15th to 17th when he got collected in “someone else’s" (Montoya and Newman) wreck. After repairs he brought the No. 31 Chevrolet home in 33rd place. We think Burton can pull through with a top-20 or better on Sunday.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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