NASCAR Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol

NASCAR Irwin Tools Night Race
Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee
Half Mile Oval – 36 Degree banking turns, 16 straights (500 laps)
Saturday, August 25, 2012, 7:30 pm Eastern, TV: ABC
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski
All Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

NASCAR returns to Bristol with only 3 races races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship begins.

With only 3 races left before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship begins, the top ten automatic qualifiers are pretty much set unless something drastic happens. They are still jockeying for seeding though. Kasey Kahne has a good shot of taking one of the two wild card spots with his two wins. So that leaves Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch fighting for the last spot in the chase. Newman leads Busch by 11 points for the second wild card spot. Each has one win, but if either wins one of the last three races they would dramatically increase their chances. Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, and Marcos Ambrose also have a chance if they can win at least one of the last 3 races.

This week NASCAR comes back to Bristol, nicknamed Thunder Valley. The half mile track always provides lots of drama because it is so small, but drivers are still racing for position like they do on larger tracks. With less space on the track, the potential for accidents is higher.  Brad Keselowski won the spring race here, his second straight win at the track.

Rain washed out qualifying so the grid was set by speeds in the first practice session Friday. Casey Mears was awarded the pole and Keselowski will start second. Here is the complete starting grid for the race. Let’s take a look at some of the favorites and contenders with odds courtesy of Bookmaker.

Brad Keselowski (3/1)

Keselowski is 5th in points 47 behind leader Greg Biffle. In 23 races he has 13 top tens, 9 top fives, and wins at Bristol, Talladega and Kentucky. He is tied with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart for most wins, so he will likely be one of the top 3 seeds for the Chase. Keseolowski has 7 straight top 10’s including back to back runner-ups at Watkins Glen and last week at Michigan. This is only his 5th career race at Bristol, but he has won the last two races at the track. Barring an accident or engine problem, he should be in contention for the win.

Kyle Busch (4/1)

As mentioned Kyle Busch is 11 points behind Ryan Newman for the last wild card spot. Busch has 10 top 10’s, 6 top 5’s, and a win at Richmond. He desperately needs a win with only 3 top 10’s in his has last 7 races. He came in 13th at Michigan last week. A trip to Bristol might be just what the doctor ordered for Kyle. In 15 career races at the track, Busch has 10 top 5’s, 7 top 5’s and 5 wins, including in the March race last year. He came in 32nd in the spring this year though. He qualified 10th for the race this week. I have been picking Kyle to win consistently this season and break his slump. He has been the victim of some bad luck, but is having a down year by his high standards. I think he contends this week.

Greg Biffle (7/1)

Biffle took over  the points lead by 20 points over second place Matt Kenseth with Biffle’s win last week at Michigan. For the season, Biffle has 14 top 10’s, 10 top 5’s, and an additional win at Texas. He has top10’s in 4 of the last 5 races. Biffle will start 3rd this week at Bristol. In 19 career Bristol starts, Biffle has never won but he does have 11 top 10’s and 6 top 5’s. He came in 13th in the spring race here. I think he gets a top 10 at least.

Jeff Gordon (19/2)

Gordon is 30 points behind Newman for the second wild card spot. He needs a win desperately after two straight bad finishes at Watkins Glen (21st) and Michigan (28th). He launched into a profanity laced tirade directed toward his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. that ESPN broadcast during the Michigan race last week. Gordon was unhappy with some hard racing by Earnhardt that Gordon felt was unnecessary. Both drivers have downplayed it as just in the heat of the moment and were joking about it by Tuesday in press conferences. For the season, Gordon has 9 top 10’s, 4 top 5’s and a win at Pocono. Gordon will start 11th at Bristol this week. In 39 career starts at Bristol, Gordon has 21 top 10’s, 15 top 5’s and 5 wins. He came in 35th here in March, and 3rd in the summer race last year.

Kasey Kahne (19/2)

Kahne has a pretty solid grip on one of the two wild card spots for the Chase unless something crazy happens. Two of the five drivers with one win would have win one of the three remaining races and pass Kahne in points in order for Kahne not to make the Chase. Kahne leads Newman by 14 points, so he has a pretty big lead. For the season, Kahne has 12 top 10’s, 7 top 5’s, and wins at Charlotte and New Hampshire. He hasn’t finished lower than 14th in the last 8 races, including a 3rd place finish at Michigan last week. Kahne will start 12th at Bristol. In 17 career races at Bristol, Kahne has 6 top 10’s and 3 top 5’s with no wins. He came in 37th in the March race here. I don’t see him contending this week. He really doesn’t need to do anything reckless, because of his relatively safe position.

Denny Hamlin (19/2)

Hamlin is 10th in points, 96 behind Biffle. For the  season, He has 11 top 10’s, 9 top 5’s and wins at Phoenix and Kansas. He came in 11th at Michigan last week. He had finished 29th at Pocono and 34th at Watkins Glen before that. Hamlin looks to be safely in the chase, but he needs a good finish or two to regain his momentum before the Chase starts. Hamlin will start 8th at Bristol. Hamlin has never won in 13 career starts at Bristol but he does have 6 top 10’s and 3 top 5’s. He came in 20th in the Spring race here, and has finished 19th or worse in 4 of his last 5 trips to Bristol.

Matt Kenseth (10/1)

Kenseth is second in points 20 behind Biffle. He has 14 top 10’s, 9 top 5’s and a win at the Daytona 500. He came in 17th at Michigan last week, his 3rd finish of 17th or worse in the last 4 races. Before that he had finished 13th or better in 14 straight races. Kenseth will start 17th at Bristol. In 25 career Bristol races, Kenseth has 17 top 10’s, 10 top 5’s, and 2 wins in 2005 and 2006. He has 5 straight top 10’s at the track, including a runner up in the spring race. He is my pick to win this week.

Jimmie Johnson (12/1)

It isn’t often that you can get Jimmie Johnson at such high odds to win a NASCAR race. He will start 37th at Bristol and it is difficult to make up that much ground on a short track. He is 4th in points 28 behind Biffle. For the season Johnson has 16 top 10’s, 11 top 5’s, and 3 wins at Dover, Darlington, and Indianapolis. Johnson took the lead at Michigan last week with 10 laps to go, but his engine blew up with 6 laps to go and he ended up finishing 27th. In 21 career starts at Bristol, Johnson has 12 top 10’s, 6 top 5’s, and a win in 2010. He came in 9th in the spring race here, his fourth straight top 10 at the track.

Tony Stewart (13/1)

Stewart is 9th in points, 95 behind Biffle. He has 11 top 10’s, 9 top 5’s, and wins at Las Vegas, California, and in the July race at Daytona. With 3 wins, the defending Sprint Cup champion will likely be one of the top 3 seeds in the Chase. Stewart finished 32nd at Michigan, after he came in 19th at Watkins Glen. Stewart will start 21st at Bristol. In 27 career starts at Bristol, Stewart has 8 top 10’s, 6 top 5’s, and a win in 2001. He came in 14th in the spring race, his 7th finish of 14th or worse in his last 8 races at Bristol.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (14/1)

Earnhardt is 3rd in points, 22 behind Biffle. For the season, Earnhardt has 16 top 10’s, 10 top 5’s, and a win in the first Michigan race in June. He came in 4th last week in the return trip to Michigan. He had finished 32nd at Pocono and 28th at Watkins Glen in the previous two weeks. He will start 16th at Bristol. In 25 career starts at Bristol, Dale Junior has 12 top 10’s, 7 top 5’s and a win in 2004. He came in 15th in the spring race here.

Other drivers and their odds are Carl Edwards & Joey Logano (both 20/1), Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer & Martin Truex, Jr. (all 25/1), Ryan Newman & Jeff Burton (both 30/1), Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose, Jamie McMurray, and Juan Montoya (all 40/1).

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