Analyzing Bristol Motor Speedway

·5 min read

Just mentioning the name of Bristol Motor Speedway brings a smile to the faces of short track fans.

When NASCAR focused on speedways at the beginning of the Modern Era, few smaller tracks remained. So Bristol took center stage. Hosting its first race in 1961, the track was not as steeply banked then at 22 degrees. Listed as 36 degrees at its height, (although disputed by many at the time), the high banks made this the fastest short track in existence.

The track is now progressively banked at 26-30 degrees to create multiple grooves – and the speed remains. Circling this track in less than 15 seconds, it is difficult to stay out of trouble. 'Big One' crashes are not only relegated to the carburetor-restricted superspeedways as Dover International Speedway and Bristol have been known to have their straightaways clogged with wrecked machinery on a regular basis.

The track is such a fan favorite that Auto Club Speedway is rumored to be reconfiguring in 2023 to emulate this course, which will be a nice addition – especially since Bristol turned one of their two dates into a dirt track for the spring edition.

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Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway still have two races on the calendar, which gives short track aficionados five races to anticipate. Even though these three tracks are distinctly different, bettors can use them as comparatives because it takes a special set of skills to excel on courses this short – most notably how they react in traffic.

Hall-of-Famer Darrell Waltrip was fond of the term "patient aggression" – and knew what he was talking about. With 12 wins to his credit, Waltrip remains the winningest driver at Bristol and even if he strings consecutive wins together, it will take several years for Kyle Busch with his eight wins to catch up.

What Waltrip means is that a driver must walk a delicate balance between not allowing himself to get caught up in traffic while, simultaneously, not creating an accident that swallows up his car. Since drivers are constantly battling for a spot on the track with their direct competition and lapped cars alike, it is easy to get impatient. And traffic is what makes this track so exciting.

Last fall, Chase Elliott may have erred to the patient side in traffic. The ripple effect of that decision continues.

An excess of patience allowed Kevin Harvick to catch up and as the duo battled for the top spot, Harvick hit the side of the No. 9, eventually causing a tire to deflate. The argument will continue as to whether this was casual contact or if Harvick "doored" Elliott. Both drivers certainly saw it differently.

Elliott was forced to pit and when he came back on course, he pulled in front of Harvick and ran a line on fresher tires that was just fast enough so the No. 4 could not pass, but slow enough to allow Kyle Larson to catch up. Once the damage was done and Larson had the lead, Elliott relented – and a rivalry that will continue for another couple of seasons was born.

That is one of the most recent battles on a track known for highlights such as the “bump-and-run” and the occasional wreck as drivers cross the finish line. Terry Labonte once stood in Bristol's Victory Lane with steam roiling from a broken radiator caused by an accident involving himself and Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Last year's Xfinity race was highlighted by AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric spinning sideways across the line. Allmendinger had his victory celebration cut short by a trip to the infield care center.

While Bristol is certainly a wild card, the cars are often strong enough to continue after significant contact. The spring 2020 race featured 10 cars with crash damage among the 22 that finished on the lead lap, including the fifth- through seventh-place finshers Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, and Kurt Busch.

Nevertheless, it will pay dividends to remember this is a race that can be hard to handicap. Except for the winner Larson (+460 at PointsBet Sportsbook) and ninth-place Denny Hamlin (+675) all of the top-10 finishers entered the race with odds of 12/1 or higher including Jones who finished eighth with an outright win line of +35000.

2022 Race (Round of 16, Race3)
September 17, Night Race at Bristol

Active Winners
8: Kyle Busch
6: Kurt Busch
3: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski
2: Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin
1: Kyle Larson

Top-fives
14: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick
12: Kurt Busch
9: Denny Hamlin
6: Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano
4: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Erik Jones
3: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson
2: Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr.. Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney
1: William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher

Current Streaks
Kevin Harvick: 2 top-fives; 3 lead lap finishes (and 11 of last 12)
Erik Jones: 3 top-10s; running at the end of all 9 races
Kyle Larson: 2 top-10s; 2 lead lap finishes (and 6 of last 7)
Aric Almirola: 2 lead lap finishes
Tyler Reddick: 2 lead lap finishes
Chase Elliott: running at the end of all 11 races
Daniel Suarez: running at the end of all 9 races
Garrett Smithley: running at the end of all 3 races

First-time Winners
2002 Food City 500: Kurt Busch
2001 Food City 500: Elliott Sadler
1990 Busch 500: Ernie Irvan
1986 Valleydale 500: Rusty Wallace
1979 Southeastern 500: Dale Earnhardt

2021 Race
September 18, Food City 500
1. Kyle Larson (460), 2. Kevin Harvick (1200), 3. William Byron (2500), 4. Ryan Blaney (1400), 5. Alex Bowman (2800)

Short Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Martinsville Speedway

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