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Driver Reports: Previewing the Bristol race

March 13, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Bristol race preview

Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch among favorites; what about Junior?

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 133 points.
Past three races: 2nd at Las Vegas, 2nd at Phoenix, 1st at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 9.7 and his average running position is 13.6 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Bristol, he has one win, seven top-fives and 14 top-10s.
Quick hit: Not only does Earnhardt love the beating and banging that comes on a short track, he's improved his performance on them throughout his career. And with the way he's running right now, why would anyone possibly bet against a top-five?

2. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is second in the standings with 132 points.
Past three races: 1st at Las Vegas, 3rd at Phoenix, 3rd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Bristol, Keselowski's average finish is 14.4 and his average running position is 13.2 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Bristol, he has two wins, three top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski once won consecutive races at Thunder Valley, but he's finished exactly 30th in two of the past three events. Those were both night races though, and he's coming off a momentum-building win in the desert. Think big.

3. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is third in the standings with 117 points.
Past three races: 6th at Las Vegas, 6th at Phoenix, 5th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Johnson's average finish is 16.3 and his average running position is 13.2 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Bristol, he has one win, seven top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Bristol is one track where Johnson's stats don't dwarf all other drivers. Still, the 48 team has three top-fives and four top-10s in its past six races at the Last Great Colosseum. Combined with three efforts of sixth of better this year, Six-Time seems primed for another strong showing.

4. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is fourth in the standings with 116 points.
Past three races: 4th at Las Vegas, 4th at Phoenix, 11th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Bristol, Logano's average finish is 19.9 and his average running position is 18.5 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Bristol, he has one top-five, two top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Logano's biggest Bristol moment came last year when he and former teammate Denny Hamlin tussled following the race. Team Penske has its two drivers in the top four of the points standings, so Logano has a shot to make his most memorable moment here something that actually happened on the track.

5. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon is fifth in the standings with 115 points.
Past three races: 9th at Las Vegas, 5th at Phoenix, 4th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Gordon's average finish is 12.9 and his average running position is 9.5 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Bristol, he has five wins, 16 top-fives, 23 top-10s and five poles.
Quick hit: Gordon's sterling Bristol record speaks for itself. Like so many of these tracks, though, it's worth noting that most of Gordon's outlandish success came during his prime -- his last win here was 2002, and his other four wins all came before the turn of the century.

6. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is sixth in the standings with 105 points.
Past three races: 5th at Las Vegas, 8th at Phoenix, 17th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Edwards' average finish is 14.9 and his average running position is 15.1 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Bristol, he has two wins, four top-fives, seven top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: A pair of 39th-place finishes is among Edwards' most recent four outings here, and the other two showings resulted in finishes outside the top 15. Edwards has started first, second and third in three of his past six Bristol races, but has had trouble finishing.

7. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is seventh in the standings with 105 points.
Past three races: 10th at Las Vegas, 12th at Phoenix, 6th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Kenseth's average finish is 12.3 and his average running position is 10.6 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Bristol, he has three wins, 11 top-fives, 18 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kenseth enters the Food City 500 as a race favorite. He won the night race last year, and he had been in position to perhaps win the spring race as well before Jeff Gordon blew a tire and inadvertently wrecked the No. 20. Combine that with three top-fives and eight top-10s in the 10 races from 2008-12, and you have a veteran totally comfortable on one of the circuit's most intense tracks.

8. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is eighth in the standings with 101 points.
Past three races: 12th at Las Vegas, 19th at Phoenix, 2nd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Hamlin's average finish is 16.1 and his average running position is 14.9 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Bristol, he has one win, four top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: For all his success on one short track -- Martinsville -- Hamlin has been inconsistent on the other. Three of his past four finishes at Bristol have been 20th or worse, but he won during that timeframe, too. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, are better Fantasy Live plays this week.

9. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is ninth in the standings with 97 points.
Past three races: 7th at Las Vegas, 7th at Phoenix, 22nd at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Bristol, Newman's average finish is 16.7 and his average running position is 15.1 over the past eight years. In 24 career starts at Bristol, he has one top-five, 13 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Three of Newman's 51 career Coors Light Pole Awards have come at Bristol, but he doesn't have any wins here. In fact, he only has one career top-five in 24 starts and the Richard Childress Racing program is more suited for big and intermediate tracks.

10. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is 10th in the standings with 95 points.
Past three races: 11th at Las Vegas, 9th at Phoenix, 19th at Daytona
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Busch's average finish is 9.9 and his average running position is 13.0 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Bristol, he has five wins, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: The 'Bad Boy' Kyle Busch persona just seems to fit rough-and-tumble Bristol, doesn't it? 'Rowdy' once won four times in five races here, and was runner-up last year in this event to Kasey Kahne. He's one of the favorites.

11. Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: McMurray is 11th in the standings with 93 points.
Past three races: 15th at Las Vegas, 10th at Phoenix, 14th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, McMurray's average finish is 19.0 and his average running position is 18.8 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Bristol, he has three top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: McMurray seems to have gotten over the Bristol bumps he experienced early in his career, and the Chip Ganassi Racing program showed speed at both Phoenix and Vegas. McMurray's average finish here is 19.0 over the past nine years, a number he should improve on Sunday.

12. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 12th in the standings with 86 points.
Past three races: 22nd at Las Vegas, 17th at Phoenix, 8th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Biffle's average finish is 11.9 and his average running position is 12.7 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Bristol, he has six top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Biffle's ninth-place effort in last year's fall race snapped a four-race stretch of finishing outside the top 10. Given Roush Fenway Racing's struggles under the new rules package at 1.5-mile Las Vegas last week, Biffle and his team are probably thrilled to be at a short track.

13. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 13th in the standings with 84 points.
Past three races: 16th at Las Vegas, 24th at Phoenix, 9th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has never started a Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol.
Quick hit: In four Nationwide Series starts at Bristol, Dillon had two top-fives and finishes of 11th and 12th. He'd be thrilled with a similar performance in his first Cup race, but don't expect that as he tangles with the sport's veterans.

14. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 14th in the standings with 83 points.
Past three races: 41st at Las Vegas, 1st at Phoenix, 13th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Harvick's average finish is 15.1 and his average running position is 13.6 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Bristol, he has one win, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s.
Quick hit: Will Harvick's hot stretch to open the season begin to cool in Bristol? It's tough to bet against him and crew chief Rodney Childers. Then again, Harvick's finished outside the top 10 here in nine of the past 10 races.

15. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Kahne is 15th in the standings with 83 points.
Past three races: 8th at Las Vegas, 11th at Phoenix, 31st at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Kahne's average finish is 15.9 and his average running position is 17.2 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Bristol, he has one win, five top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kahne won last year's spring race and finished second in the night race, easily the best year at Bristol of his career. He's improved his finish in every race this year, too.

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Stenhouse Jr. is 16th in the standings with 80 points.
Past three races: 27th at Las Vegas, 18th at Phoenix, 7th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Bristol, Stenhouse Jr.'s average finish is 17.0 and his average running position is 17.7 over the past nine years. In two career starts at Bristol, his best finish is 16th in the spring 2013 race.
Quick hit: Stenhouse Jr. finished 997 of 1,000 laps at Bristol last year, an impressive slate for a rookie. His next goal should be his first top-15 -- or perhaps top-10 -- finish at the track.