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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Bristol Notebook

Saturday Bristol Notebook

April 22, 2017

Notebook Items:
·         Is the “old” Bristol experiencing a rebirth?
·         Bristol brings back positive vibes for Montoya
·         Short strokes

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Is the “old” Bristol experiencing a rebirth?

BRISTOL, Tenn. – As it turned out, Kyle Busch was prophetic when he talked about the changing character of Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m sure (Kyle) Larson’s thrilled and he’ll have to rubber in the top himself while the rest of us are rooting and gouging for the bottom,” was Busch’s tongue-in-cheek assessment of the racing characteristics of the .533-mile short track, where Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will compete in the Food City 500 on Sunday (2 p.m.  ET on FOX).

Bristol is different this spring, thanks to a wider denser strip of VHT TrackBite applied to the bottom lane through both sets of turns at Thunder Valley. For the past few years, after Bristol ground the outside lane of the concrete surface in 2012, the top lane was superior after it had a chance to take on rubber.

The application of the track sealer, to a greater degree than was used for last year’s Night Race in August, has flipped the equation, and drivers speculated that the bottom lane would be the faster lane on Sunday.

If that’s the case, the action at Bristol would harken back to the old days, when the best way to pass a car was simply to bump it out of the way.

“I think you’re going to see the bottom lane does wear off a little bit as the weekend progresses,” Busch told the NASCAR Wire Service. “It looks like they did a little more here this time than they did last time, so we’ll see how that transpires and what that means.

“From what I’m watching already, there’s a lot of bottom going on and not a whole lot of middle or top.”

And sure enough, when cars took to the track for Saturday morning’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, there was Larson, the polesitter, in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet singlehandedly trying to rubber in the top groove.

With about seven minutes left in the session, Larson spun and clipped the outside wall but the cosmetic damage to his Chevy wasn’t enough to force the team to a backup car. After repairs to the sheet metal, Larson was back in action for final practice.

“I feel like it would still be really fast up there (in the top lane), it’s just nobody is brave enough to go up there and work in the groove,” Larson said. “The VHT is wider than the width of our race cars now, too, which makes it extremely easy to run around the bottom…

“I thought the fall race (last year), I think it was like three or four feet wide. I thought that was a good width because you could get your left sides in it, and you really had to be cautious of hitting your marks every corner.  Now it’s like you just fire off from the corner and it doesn’t really matter where you enter, and as long as your right sides are in the grip, you’re going to rip around the corner.”

After running 30 laps on the bottom during Happy Hour, Larson moved up to the top, stubbornly trying to work in the outside groove. Shortly thereafter, Ty Dillon followed into the top lane, and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson did the same.

All told, Larson ran 59 laps in final practice, finishing 26th fastest among the 37 drivers who participated.


Juan Pablo Montoya got a warm welcome on his return to Bristol Motor Speedway, even if it was just to announce his sponsor for the upcoming Indianapolis 500.

Montoya will compete for Team Penske in the May spectacle with Fitzgerald Glider Kits as his sponsor, the same company that holds the entitlement for Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol.

But when asked about his first trio around BMS in a stock car, Montoya waxed nostalgic.

“I love this place,” Montoya told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Because for me, the biggest problem I had with a stock car was it had no grip.  Here, with the banking, it made up a lot of grip. I always ran really well here. This was a fun place for me.”

Asked whether the relationship with Penske and Fitzgerald Glider Kits might lead to a return to NASCAR racing in a one-off situation, Montoya shrugged and smiled.

“I don’t know,” he said. “They tell me go here, I go there. I mean they say, ‘Jump,’ I say ‘How high?’”

In general, however, Montoya thinks cross-pollination between racing series is a good thing. In the Indy 500 he’ll compete against Fernando Alonso, a rival in Formula One from 2001 through 2006.

“I think it would be nice for motorsports to do a little more of that, because it’s just going to create a little more interest overall,” said Montoya, who doesn’t have a full-time IndyCar ride this season. “It is something that it would be nice to see all motorsports to be able to see top drivers jump from one to the other just for one race. 

“I was lucky enough to be in all the top series in the world, and being able to win in all of them and everything. I’ve been very blessed in that point of view.”

Montoya, however, wasn’t immune from some good-natured ribbing that also recalled his NASCAR days. Fitzgerald Glider Kits founder Tom Fitzgerald Sr. introduced Montoya as “Mr. Jet Dryer,” a reference to the driver’s fiery collision with track-drying equipment under caution during the 2012 Daytona 500.

“I wasn’t going to do that,” quipped Fitzgerald, “but I couldn’t resist.”


Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez posted the fastest speeds in Happy Hour, running laps at 128.563 mph and 128.262 mph, respectively. The Hendrick Motorsports entries of Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson were third, fourth and fifth. Kahne had the fastest 10-lap average at 127.482 mph…

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clipped the outside wall during Saturday’s first practice and did enough damage to the right rear that the team considered going to a backup car before opting to fix the primary No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. In the repaired car, Stenhouse was 30th fastest in final practice. “I had just been really loose and just got down in the corner, and it took off,” Stenhouse said of the accident. “I thought I saved it and just got the right rear in the wall.”

Friday Bristol Notebook

Friday Bristol Notebook

Notebook Items:
·         Jimmie Johnson's victory celebration comes with a price
·         Changing track has made Bristol tougher on Kurt Busch
·         Absence of veterans doesn't hurt Dash 4 Cash competition
·         Short Strokes

April 21, 2017

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Jimmie Johnson’s victory celebration comes with a price

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- After his victory two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was late for his post-race press conference – and with good reason.

Because of a malfunction with his fluid delivery system, Johnson was dehydrated by the end of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Consequently, a trip to the infield care center for IV fluids delayed his appearance in the media center.

During the NASCAR off week over Easter, Johnson took on very different sorts of fluids, in Mexico no less. After all, what good is a well-earned vacation if you can’t celebrate your most recent victory?

“Yeah, the three IV bags did wonders,” Johnson said in a press conference prior to Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX). “After leaving the media center, I started my off weekend quickly that night and proceeded to chase out the pain with as many margaritas and beers as I could down in Mexico. 

“I recovered well, but unfortunately came back sick from Mexico, and I’m just on the tail end of that now. If you are going to play you are going to pay, I guess, at the end of the day.”

What made the trip worth playing – and paying – was a victory that reversed a sluggish start to the season for the No. 48 team. Uncharacteristically, Johnson had posted just one top-10 finish in six races before the Texas win.

“We would have been drowning sorrows instead of celebrating and enjoying it (if the team hadn’t won),” Johnson said. “There’s no better way to go into an off weekend than with a win or a strong run, strong performance.
“We all sit inside of our heads and think about where we’re at, what’s going on. A tricky start to our season, to say the least, and to punch our ticket to the playoffs and get that win made for a great off weekend.”

Kurt Busch is tied with his brother Kyle for most victories among active drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Only one problem: that’s ancient history. Busch earned four of his five Bristol victories during a five-race stretch from spring 2002 through spring 2004. His last win at the .533-mile high-banked short track came in the spring of 2006, his first season with team owner Roger Penske.
Since then, the feast has turned to famine, and Busch knows why. It has everything to do with changes to the track that have opened up the outside lane – and simultaneously opened the path to victory for a much broader group of drivers. Busch ran third at BMS in last year’s spring race, matching his best finish since his most recent victory.
“It’s definitely gotten tougher, with the amount of options there are with the low lane, the high lane, the way that the tires have changed,” Busch said on Friday before opening practice at Bristol. “The races that I won had a nice, consistent pattern. It was to be a bulldog on the bottom lane, move guys out of the way, and let the rough edges drag. 

“The new Bristol and where we are now, it’s a little bit more finesse, and you have to find the lane that works the best to be able to get by the guy that’s already in the best lane, and you can’t necessarily just move him because we’re all on that ragged edge. That high lane, we’re all up there running that 15-second lap time, and you’re right on the edge of slipping already, so you’re trying to get to the guy and move him, and yet if you do one little extra step, you’re gonna slide up into the fence. 

“It’s such a large consequence when that happens, so it’s just a different way of going about it, and I haven’t quite mastered it like I did before, and, again, third last spring here and just trying to build off of that.”
A difference in format and a ban on five-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans may have changed the tenor of the Dash 4 Cash races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, but it hasn’t diminished the quality of competition in the eyes of the drivers.
This year, eligibility for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonuses is determined during the first two stages of a race, rather than through separate heat races. And though Cup drivers with five-year full-time tenures aren’t allowed to compete, there are plenty of talented drivers with less than five years of Cup experience eager to fill the top-quality rides.
“You put Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon – they’re still equally as good, in my opinion,” said JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier, one of the top XFINITY regulars competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. “Anybody that gets in the 18, 19 or 20 (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas) has been great. They’ve kind of been able to plug-and-play drivers.
“The 42 car has been lights-out, with Tyler (Reddick) in it or Kyle (Larson) in it. I think the caliber of drivers in the XFINITY Series right now is as good as I’ve ever seen it in a long time. For me personally, yeah, it does change the feel of the weekend, but I think you’re not changing the competitiveness of it.”
Michael Annett, Allgaier’s teammate, agreed wholeheartedly.
“I think the parity this year is closer than it’s ever been between the guys racing on Sunday and racing on Saturday as well,” Annett said. “We’ve already seen it – Ryan (Reed) winning Daytona, Justin winning Phoenix, five top 10s for Bubba (Darrell Wallace Jr.).”
Allgaier won both the Phoenix race and the first Dash 4 Cash bonus in March. He’ll try for two in a row in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol. Should any driver win all four Dash 4 Cash bonuses, he would also get an additional $600,000 to bring the total bonus money to $1 million.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones was fastest in opening Monster Energy Cup Series practice with a lap at 127.843 mph… Series leader Kyle Larson, who will start from the pole because of a qualifying rainout, ran 72 laps in the session, more than any other driver… Both Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano scraped the outside wall during practice, but the damage to their respective cars was cosmetic… Chase Elliott spun off Turn 4 and slid sideways down the frontstretch but avoided contact with the walls. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bristol rainout puts Kyle Larson on pole for Food City 500

Bristol rainout puts Kyle Larson on pole for Food City 500

April 21, 2017

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the third time this season, Kyle Larson will start a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race from the pole.

And for the second time this year, he gained the top starting spot not through qualifying in time trials, but with an assist from Mother Nature.

Because of intermittent rain at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR canceled qualifying in favor of necessary practice for teams in the Cup, XFINITY and K&N Pro Series East Series.

With the field for Sunday’s Food City 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX) ordered according to owner points, Larson will start up front as the series leader, with second-place Chase Elliott beside him. Those are familiar positions for both drivers, who started in the same spots when rain wiped out qualifying for the April 2 race at Martinsville.

Interestingly, Larson posted his worst finish of the season in that race — 17th. Otherwise, in the six events since he ran 12th in the season-opening Daytona 500, the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has a victory from the pole at Fontana, California, and four second-place finishes.

Elliott, on the other hand, finished third at Martinsville, matching his best result of the season.

Martin Truex Jr. will start third on Sunday, followed by Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Keselowski is the only two-time winner this season, having gone to Victory Lane at both Atlanta and Martinsville.