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Food City 500 marks return to short tracks

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 12, 2018 at 9:06 PM

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series returns to the short tracks this weekend with the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson is the defending race champion, while there are seven other former Bristol winners in the field. Kyle Busch leads the way with six wins, followed by his brother Kurt with five wins. Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski match Johnson with two Bristol wins, while Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne each have one win at the high-banked, .533-mile oval.

The weekend action starts with Bush's Beans Pole Day on Friday where qualifying sets the field for Sunday's race. The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Zombie Auto Parts 150 for the NASCAR K&N Series is scheduled for Saturday.

The track is offering satellite parking for a $20 round trip with post-event shuttles leaving approximately 45 minutes after the race. Park-and-ride locations include ETSU Lot No. 9 on the corner of W. State of Franklin and University Parkway, Sullivan Central High School, and Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol, Va.

As for the on-track action, we look at who's hot, who's not and those who haven't quite been able to get that first win this season.

Who's Rolling

Kevin Harvick - The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has been the dominant driver of the early season with three wins and five top-five finishes in the first seven races. The 2014 NASCAR champion has led 520 laps so far, including 87 laps last Sunday at Texas. He has two Bristol wins, the 2005 Food City 500 and the 2016 Bass Pro Shops NRA Race.

Kyle Busch - The 2015 NASCAR champions is the hottest driver in the series with top-three finishes in the last five races. Busch scored his first win of the season last Sunday at Texas. Now, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota comes to his best track where he leads all active drivers with six Cup Series wins and a track-record 20 wins over NASCAR's three national series (Monster Cup, Xfinity and Truck).

Martin Truex Jr. - Coming off his first NASCAR championship, Truex has continued to show speed in the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota this early season with a win at California. Bristol was the site of Truex's first ever win in the Xfinity Series in 2004, but he's yet to win there in the Cup Series with a best finish of second at the 2011 August night race.

Trying to Break Through

Team Penske Racing - Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski have all shown speed this early season, leading laps and contending for wins. They rank second, third and seventh in the points, but their Fords haven't been up to the level of the Stewart-Haas Fords, which have seen both Harvick and Clint Bowyer win this season.

Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones - The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have been solid this season, but a little off the pace set by Busch. Hamlin has shown more speed than Busch traditionally in qualifying at Bristol and is the track record holder with a lap at 131.467 mph. Jones won the pole for last August's race and finished second to Busch.

Kyle Larson - Larson has three top-10 finishes in seven races, including a runner-up to Truex at California. But, he's coming off a hard crash at Texas where his No. 42 Chevrolet blew a right front tire and slammed hard into the outside wall. He's always strong at Bristol, where he won the pole for last year's Food City 500 and engaged in a spirited battle with Busch in the first stage of the August Night Race.

Who's Struggling

Chase Elliott - A year ago, it appeared the second-generation star was on the verge of a first Cup Series win. A year later, the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is still looking to win. Elliott has only led eight laps this season after leading nearly 200 at this time last season. Elliott has a best finish of seventh in four previous Bristol races.

Jimmie Johnson - The seven-time NASCAR champion's struggles have been well documented, currently mired in the longest winless streak of his career. He's also had plenty of struggles at Bristol over the years, although he broke through last year for his second Food City 500 win. A post on social media circulated earlier this week which showed how Johnson has just one top-10 finish in the last 13 races, same as Gray Gaulding, who is driving for a lower-budget team.

Trevor Bayne - The Knoxville native is coming off his best finish of the season 12th at Texas, but his average finish is just 24th place this season. Besides it being his home track, Bristol has been Bayne's best track over the past couple of seasons. He has finishes of fifth, 12th, 11th and seventh over his last four BMS races.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300

To the fans who complain about NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the Xfinity Series, this is the race for you. For the first time in recent memory, there are no full-time Cup Series drivers entered in Saturday's race.

NASCAR Cup Series drivers had dominated the Xfinity Series to this point, winning every race other than Xfinity regular Tyler Reddick winning the season opener at Daytona.

The No. 22 Team Penske Ford has been particularly dominant with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney winning the last three races in the car. Austin Cindric will get his shot behind the wheel of the car, which shares the race sponsor.

There are two former Bristol winners in the field. They are Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, who won the Food City 500 Cup Series race.

Other favorites for Saturday's race include Christopher Bell in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, Cole Custer in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Daniel Hemric in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Ryan Preece in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

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