It’s that time of the year again. Come 8pm ET on Saturday night the eyes of NASCAR fans the world over will be fixed on Bristol Speedway as the battle to reach the chase hots up at one of the most spectacular events of the Sprint Cup schedule. Carl Edwards came out victorious at the Food City 500 back in April earlier this year leading Earnhardt, Jr, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne over the line. With the grid for the chase becoming tighter and tighter just how valuable would a repeat of April’s result be for Elliott and Bayne this time round? Edwards headed fellow Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate Hamlin home in qualifying, and with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth also lining up for Saturday’s race in the top five we have a real chance of a JGR duke out for the win. As the second race of the year at Bristol Speedway fast approaches I’ve given my assessment of some of the biggest talking points following qualifying and ahead of the race.
Can Logano make it a Bristol night race hat-trick?
Despite struggling in the early season races at Bristol Joey Logano seems to come alive when the sun sets over Tennessee and will be looking to make it three night race wins in three years coming off 10th place on the starting grid, right behind his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. Logano came back from two laps down to finish 10th earlier in the season and if anyone can take the fight to the JGR Toyota’s and Furniture Row Racing this year it’s the two Penske Ford’s who sit 1st and 6th in the points heading into the closing stages of the regular season.
A fine drive to second at Watkins Glen last time out was a strong performance for Logano who registered a disappointing 37th at Ponoco the week before, and with his chase berth all but secured I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pennzoil Ford appear as the main challenger to the JGR Toyota’s as the race unfolds.
Carl Edwards a strong bet to make it two from two
Five pole positions so far in 2016 goes some way to demonstrating just how strong Edwards has been this season, and with a 131.407 mph lap in qualifying the #19 is my hot favourite for victory lane come the end of the race. Already a winner at Bristol earlier in the season, Edwards has bounced back perfectly from what has been a run of tough races following his 2nd at Kentucky all those weeks ago. With Watkins Glen winner Hamlin for company on row one Edwards will be pushed all the way but it’s hard to look past a Toyota victory, and Edwards is the most finely placed of their five cars to deliver.
Important Race For the Chase
There are just four races left to go before the start of the chase at Chicagoland in a few weeks time, and strong qualifying performances from Chase Elliott (6th), AJ Allmendinger (8th) and Chris Buescher (12th) provide those drivers on the cusp of qualifying for the chase with a valuable opportunity to score big points. Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson both qualified poorly and will line up in 28th and 23rd respectively, leaving both drivers with plenty of work to do if their fellow chase contenders have strong races. It will be critical for those drivers buried in the midfield not to go a lap down to early and ruin their chances of big points before the race has even reached it’s halfway stage.
Jeff Gordon Once Again Eyes the top ten
It’d be great to see Jeff Gordon bag a top ten finish on his return to the sport deputizing for the still injured Dale Earnhardt Jnr. 13th, 27th and 14th place finishes in a field as tough and as competitive as this are by no means poor results for the returning NASCAR legend but in qualifying just outside the top ten in 11th Gordon should be well in contention for his best result of his unexpected comeback. With fellow HMS teammates Johnson and Kahne struggling towards the lower reaches of the top 20 in qualifying Gordon, along with Elliott is perhaps Chevrolet’s best hope of a strong result on Saturday night, and with Kahne’s chances of reaching the chase looking less likely with every passing race it’s about time Hendrick Motorsports had something to cheer about.