NASCAR Driver Capsules, Aug. 22
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the 18th straight week after Michigan. He leads second-ranked Clint Bowyer by 41 points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 51 points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 23 career starts, 1 wins, 7 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2010. Finished second in this race last year and was 22nd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: With the exception of a 22nd-place finish in spring and a 35th-place finish in summer 2010, Johnson has been one of the most successful drivers at Bristol in the last 4 1/2 seasons. In the last nine races there, he has one win, a runner-up, two third-place finishes, a fourth, an eighth and ninth. Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "Short tracks are fun. I'm looking forward it. The night race in Bristol is awesome. I tell many, many friends if they are going to pick one that is the one that they need to come see and be a part of for a lot of reasons. I'm excited to go back. We run well there. I'd like to find a little bit more and really be a car racing for the win and go to Victory Lane again. I have high expectations and expect to go there and run really well."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson took a huge hit in the points after Michigan. He came to MIS leading Clint Bowyer by 75 points, a margin that was cut to only 41 points after Johnson left Sunday's race prematurely with a blown engine. He ultimately finished 40th, the lowest of all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 97.8 percent (11,262) of the 11,513 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Bristol. His average start there is 15.7 and average finish is 14.3. He has one DNF there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in second place for the sixth consecutive week after Michigan. But his margin behind series leader Jimmie Johnson shrunk from 75 to just 41 points, while his lead over third-ranked Carl Edwards is 10 points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in summer 2007 and spring 2008. Was seventh in this race last year and fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer comes into Saturday night's race at Bristol with an excellent chance to further cut the gap between himself and points leader Jimmie Johnson. But to make even more progress, Bowyer needs to win his first race of the season, plain and simple. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "(Bristol is) one of my favorite racetracks - it always has been. Whether you get caught up in something or not, whether you get a bad finish or a good finish - it's just a coliseum. There is no better way of displaying our product of racing then they do it at Bristol. Period. It's the best you can ever have of our kind of car racing - on a short track in that bull ring like that. For a fan you don't get a better bang for your buck anywhere."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing sixth at Watkins Glen, Bowyer finished fifth at Michigan.
ETC.: As much as he loves short track racing, especially at Bristol, Bowyer has never won there and has had mixed success over the years. Bowyer has completed just 92.3 percent (6,933) of the 7,513 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 20.3 and average finish is 16.2. He has two DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third place for the sixth consecutive week after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 51 (down from 80 points before Michigan), is 10 points behind second-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by 13 points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 18 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2007 and summer 2008. Was 22nd in this race last year and was 18th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is closing in on locking in his berth in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup. But with the upcoming reseeding of the Chase standings after Richmond, Edwards needs another win or two in the three remaining pre-Chase races to significantly improve his seeding starting the Chase. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I love racing at Bristol, it's exciting for a number of reasons. We won there in the Truck series, the Nationwide series and the Cup series and we really got nothing to lose the next three races. We just want to go for wins and Bristol would be a good place to get one. It's a Saturday night race, there's a lot of energy around it and there's nothing like standing in victory lane on Saturday night in Bristol, so that's our mission."
LOOKING BACK: After a strong fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen, Edwards finished 10th this past Sunday at Michigan. He was looking for significantly better, but he also could have wound up significantly worse. He also failed to give himself a better birthday present, given his 34th birthday was August 15.
ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.2 percent (8,583) of the 9,013 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 18.5 and average finish is 14.6. He has one DNF there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the ninth straight week after Michigan. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 64 points (down from 101 last week), is 13 points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by 43 points (up from 14 points last week).
BRISTOL RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 wins, 9 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2005. Was 15th in this race last year and finished 14th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is all but locked into the Chase, but he could use another win or two before the playoffs begin three weeks from now. He couldn't pick a better place to do so than Saturday night at Bristol. Here's his thoughts: "We ran really well there (Bristol Motor Speedway) in March, we just kind of got a little bit off on pit strategy at the end, but all-in-all the performance was pretty good. Overall, Bristol is a pretty crazy track. It doesn't matter if it's the old track or new track, it just seems like that night race brings a lot more excitement."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick had one of his best runs of the season this past Sunday at Michigan, finishing second to Joey Logano.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 98.2 percent (12,290) of the 12,513 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 17.8 and average finish is 12.6. He has two DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch remained in fifth place for the second consecutive week after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 107 points, is 43 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 18 points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 17 career starts, 5 wins, 8 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2007, spring and summer 2009, summer 2010 and spring 2011. Finished sixth in this race last year and was second in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bristol is without question Kyle Busch's best Sprint Cup track. After coming so close to a sixth win there this spring (finished runnerup), he goes for win No. 6 there this Saturday night. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I'm not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol. I've just had a lot of success there, but I've also had some misfortune there, too. Ever since I got through my rookie year, I've just taken a liking to the place. Of course, I've been able to get some help from my brother (Kurt). He's always been really, really good there. But, when they changed the track to this current surface in 2007, I just really took to it right away. It's just a fun racetrack no matter what series I'm running there."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the week before at Watkins Glen, Busch had a terrible outing at Michigan, finishing 31st. He's looking for a big bounce back this Saturday night.
ETC.: Busch has completed 97.6 percent (8,310) of the 8,513 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 18.2, while his average finish is an outstanding 9.8. He has zero DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After spending the previous two weeks in seventh place, Matt Kenseth moved up one spot to sixth after Sunday's race at Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 125 points (down from 149 last week), is 18 points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by nine points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 27 career starts, 2 wins, 10 top-fives, 17 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2005 and summer 2006. Finished 25th in this race last year and was 35th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After having an outstanding run for most of his career at Bristol, Kenseth has struggled in his last two starts. He's looking for a big bounce back Saturday night. Here's his thoughts on the race: "The first one is early in the season, it's during the day and its cooler. Then we go back in the middle of the summer and it's hot and it's nighttime, so the cars always look faster -- you see the sparks flying and all that. It's a really cool atmosphere for a race fan and for the teams and drivers as well. The track of course -- the way it's shaped and being later in the year, everybody's patience is a little thinner and all that stuff. It seems like the racing is more intense and that leads to close racing, frustration and all that kind of stuff that is fun to watch."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth typically does well at Michigan, but not this past Sunday, having to settle for a 15th-place finish.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.0 percent (13,101) of the 13,513 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 16.8, while his average finish is a 12.9. He has four DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: For the second week in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped one position, this time from sixth to seventh after Michigan. He trails teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson by 134 points, is nine points behind sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 12 points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 27 career starts, 1 wins, 7 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2004. Finished 12th in this race last year and was sixth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: One week after still looking like he was secure to make the Chase, Earnhardt is suddenly in trouble, going from a 45-point margin ahead of 10th place to just 16 points after Michigan. Still, he feels confident coming into Saturday's race that he'll make the Chase: "I like Bristol. I've always enjoyed going there as a kid and watching races. The Saturday night race is one of the best tickets in the series. It's an exciting racetrack, and it's a lot of fun for the drivers. You're always in the middle of something every lap. It keeps you on your toes, and it's a pretty tough racetrack. I enjoy the challenge and look forward to hopefully having a good weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing a disappointing 30th the week before at Watkins Glen, Earnhardt went from bad to worse at Michigan, finishing 36th. His chances of making the Chase took a serious hit.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.9 percent (13,365) of the 13,513 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 21.7, while his average finish is a significantly better 11.6. He has one DNF there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski remained in eighth place for the second straight week after Michigan. Keselowski trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 146 points (down from 174 points the week before), is 12 points behind seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads ninth-ranked Kurt Busch by just two points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 7 career starts, 2 wins, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2011 and spring 2012. Finished a career-worst 30th in this race last year and rebounded to third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is far from being secure to make the Chase. In fact, not only is he just four points ahead of 10th place, he also remains winless thus far in 2013. Given his success in the past at Bristol, he has to give it his all to earn that first win of the year this Saturday night. Here's his thoughts: "Bristol is absolutely coming at a good time. I like to think of Bristol as one of my better racetracks, probably in the top three. I took to it from the first time I drove out on the surface. It's a man's racetrack and I like that about it. We need to get a win in these last three races before the Chase begins. We know what we can do in the Miller Lite Ford at Bristol, but past success doesn't guarantee anything for the future. We need to have a focused weekend from the time we roll off the truck. I would rather have a win or two and be a wild card than finish seventh or eighth and squeak my way into the Chase without any wins. The momentum of a win and the confidence it instills in you and the fear that it puts in your competition is more than worth it."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing second the week before at Watkins Glen, Keselowski led 17 laps at Michigan but faded near the end of the race to a 12th-place finish.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed 98.1 (3,433) of the 3,500 total laps contested in seven career starts at Bristol. His average start is 13.7, while his average finish is 12.1. He has zero DNFs there.
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kurt Busch moved up two spots to ninth place in the standings after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 148 points, is two points behind eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by a mere two points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 25 career starts, 5 wins, 7 top-fives, 14 top-10s and 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002, spring and summer 2003, spring 2004 and spring 2006. Finished 28th in this race last year but rebounded to finish fourth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: With three races left, the elder Busch brother is back in the top-10 and must do everything in his power to stay there. Plus, given that he still has yet to win a race this season and has been one of the most dominant drivers at Bristol over the last decade, the stage could be set for him to reach victory lane and significantly help his Chase chances on Saturday night. Here's his thoughts on the race: "It's a good chance for us to break through (for a win). The Bristol night race is one of those top-five events of the year where you feel the excitement and the electricity. We're in the Chase mix and the biggest thing is to stay out of trouble. We all know that trouble can happen at any corner at Bristol. There's 500 laps at Bristol and we have to protect our car and still finish well. There's three weeks to go where we could get in a little fender-bender, some itty-bitty thing can happen that will put us on the outside. We need to stay focused and worry about what we do and not what others do."
LOOKING BACK: Looking like the vintage driver that won the first Chase championship in 2004, Busch had one of his best outings of the season, leading 43 laps and finishing third at Michigan.
ETC.: Busch has completed 94.8 percent (11,859) of the 12,513 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 19.2, while his average finish there is 13.4. He has two DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle dropped one spot in the standings to 10th after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 150 points (down from 181 points the week before), is two points behind ninth-ranked Kurt Busch and leads 11th-ranked Kasey Kahne by four points.
BRISTOL RECORD: 21 career starts, 0 wins, 6 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Third in summer 2005. Finished 19th in this race last year and was 11th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: There's no easy way to say this: Biffle is in deep trouble with three races left to make the Chase. He's just four points ahead of 11th-ranked Kasey Kahne, who right now is the leading candidate to make the Chase with one of the two wild-card berths - provided Kahne doesn't get back in the top-10 in the next three races. If he does so, Biffle would likely be knocked out of the top-10 and would have to rally by Richmond to make the playoffs. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race at Bristol: "I'm really looking forward to Bristol this weekend. We always have good runs at that race track. You race right up against the fence, as fast as you can go. Saturday night under the lights, where else would you want to be except Bristol, Tennessee."
LOOKING BACK: After having won the last two races at Michigan, Biffle led 28 laps there on Sunday before fading to an eventual ninth-place finish.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 98.3 percent (10,330) of the 10,513 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 13.4 and average finish is 12.1. He has one DNF there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only four points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. Stands first in the wild card standings with two wins.
BRISTOL RECORD: Won the spring race after starting second and leading 109 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "The Bristol night race is always one of the better races of the year. It's one of the races I look forward to just because of the time of the season it is. I like racing there at night. It's hot. It seems like tempers kind of get out of control there at times at the night race because it's hot and you're racing under the lights. We won the first one, and we've run really well there the last few times we've been at Bristol so I'm looking forward to trying to get another win and sweeping the season there."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne was all smiles after rallying from his 31st starting position to finish seventh at Michigan. "The track got real slick today and we had to make a bunch of changes to get the car where we wanted," said Kahne. "We made up a lot of ground in the last 40 or so laps, so it was a good day. We didn't run as well as we did here in June, but we did get us a top-10 finish." Kahne was leading in June when he suffered engine failure.
ETC.: Kahne was featured in a special "My Wish" segment on ESPN on Tuesday. The episode featured the story behind Kahne's granting of a special wish by Rylee Durham, a 12-year-old who suffers from Noonan's syndrome. The youngster got to meet Kahne, her favorite driver, earlier this year at Daytona International Speedway.
56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 10 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots to fall out of the top 10. Stands second in the wild card standings with one win.
BRISTOL RECORD: Only two top-five finishes in 15 starts, but they have come in the last four races including a second in the August race of 2011.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex calls racing at Bristol "just insane - it's out of control. Bristol is like having a boxing match in an elevator. Everything is so tight there and so packed together. The fans are on top of the action. When you're driving the car, you're always in the middle of something. You're always busy and you don't get any time to rest. It's just an exciting place and it keeps you amped up and keeps you on the edge of your seat all night long."
LOOKING BACK: Truex finished 16th at Michigan. "We started off pretty solid and I thought we were going to be OK," said Truex. "Then the handling on the Napa Toyota went away. We tried a bunch of different strategies to regain track position but the car just would not handle the way we needed it to. It was downright terrible there for a while. Chad (Johnson, crew chief) took one final stab at it on our last pit stop and it helped a lot. I wish we had more laps because it could have been a better day."
ETC.: Truex said a win at Bristol would be special. "We've been close too," said Truex. "We've been really good there. That would be a fun one to win. I won there in Nationwide and it sure would be great to win (in Cup). We want to win everywhere, but there are certain tracks that are really cool to win at and Bristol is definitely one of them with that night race and getting to drive on top of the building with the fireworks shooting off. Yeah, that is one I want to get."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 17 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. Stands third in the wild card standings following his Michigan win.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished eighth last August after leading 139 laps. It was his first top-10 finish in nine starts. Won the Nationwide Series race last August.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano admits, "Until we are locked into the Chase, then the pressure is still there. Even with a win, we are still just one bad race from pretty much being out of this thing. We just have to keep doing what we have been doing over the last few weeks. We just need to put together great races and get the most out of the Shell-Pennzoil Ford that we can. It's all about maximizing your day over these last three races (before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship begins)."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole at a record speed of 203.949 miles per hour, Logano led three times for a race-high 51 laps including final four laps after inheriting the top spot when Mark Martin ran out of gas. The victory boosted Logano's chances of making the Chase for the first time in his career. "It is so cool to be here in victory lane," said Logano. "It is crazy racing Mark Martin, my childhood hero. I was able to race against him in Pocono last year for the win. This is huge for our Chase hopes. We needed this to have a shot at getting in the Chase. Getting by the 29 (Kevin Harvick) on that last restart (with 23 laps to go) was the key. I had to be very aggressive to get by the 29."
ETC.: Logano feels the key for the next three races is "being consistent. It is something Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and I talk about before each weekend on how we will approach the weekend and how aggressive we need to be. We decided we needed a win a couple of weeks ago. So we got one. That is what we wanted to do. As long as we are consistent and keep knocking off top-10's like this team has been doing, we will be in good shape. If we get another win, it will really help us."
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 26 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Has finished third in the last two August races. His five wins ties him with Kurt and Kyle Busch for the most victories among active drivers. Overall has 22 top-10 finishes including 16 top-five's in 41 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon said the team's "mindset hasn't changed going into this weekend" in its bid to qualify for this year's Chase for the Championship. "We're still going to work hard all weekend to have a fast race car, hopefully qualify well and lead some laps and be in position to battle for the win at the end of the night. That's our plan of attack every weekend."
LOOKING BACK: It was not the day that Gordon had envisioned as he battled an "edgy" race car all afternoon as he finished 17th at Michigan to put a huge dent in his hopes of making the Chase for the Championship. "We just didn't get through (turns) three and four like we needed," said Gordon. "We had hoped for a much better day."
ETC.: A year ago, Gordon was 16th in the standings with one win, four top-five's and nine top-10's in the first 23 races of the season. He then finished third at Bristol, second at Atlanta and second at Richmond to qualify for the Chase. This year, he has the same amount of top-10's and one more top-five's after 23 races. And he is two spots better in the standings. But he has no wins. "We have a good stretch of tracks ahead, and we have to do everything possible to make the most of these races," said Gordon.
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 27 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. Stands fourth in the wild card standings with one win.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished seventh in the spring race for his 13 top-10 finish in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman feels "we have a good package when we come to Bristol, and that's easy to see by how we have qualified and run there. We haven't gotten a win there, yet, but it's a track where we are very confident. You have to have patience because it is a track that really challenges your mentality. It's that mental stamina of controlling your emotions and controlling the race car according to your emotions and making the best of all the situations you are in."
LOOKING BACK: Newman battled a "loose" race car in the waning laps at Michigan. As a result, he ended the day in 13th place after running in the top 10 for much of the day. "We had the right pit strategy, and we would have been in position to grab a top-five at the very least," said Newman. "But I just couldn't do anything with the car (in the final 25 laps). The Quicken Loans Chevy got too loose, and being back there in dirty air didn't help us at all. I'm disappointed we couldn't get the finish we set ourselves up for today."
ETC.: Newman said he likes the short tracks "because I like using the middle petal (brake). In all seriousness, I think it adds another parameter of a driver's input when you have to modulate that third petal. I think our team has done a really good job with the brake package we have. At places like Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Richmond, we've been really strong as a team."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 41 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished 10th in the spring race for his third top-10 finish in the last four races. Has five top-10 finishes in the last seven races.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "Bristol at night is always a fun race. I think everyone who has raced under the lights on a Saturday night gets a charge out going to a track like this. We have had some good runs at Bristol, including a top-10 there in the spring. I hope that we can put together a good run this weekend in the McDonald's Chevy. We just need to focus on the things that we can control and go out and execute."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray was forced to start at the back of the pack after suffering engine failure during practice on Friday. And to compound his problems, he battled an ill-handling race car for most of the day on Sunday as he finished 22nd to severely damage his hopes of making the Chase for the Championship. "This was just a difficult day for our Advil Chevy," said McMurray. "Our car was really loose most of the day, and we struggled to find the balance to make it better."
ETC.: McMurray wants the world to know "you're not going to see any changes between sponsors or drivers on the 1 team. Everything is all set for next year." Last week the team informed Juan Pablo Montoya that they would not extend his contract for 2014.
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 64 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished ninth in the spring race for his third straight top-10 finish and fourth in the last five races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "I really enjoy short-track racing. That is what our sport was built around. Night racing at Bristol always makes for an exciting evening, for some reason the sparks seem to fly even more when you race under the lights. We've had a pretty good record at Bristol over the past couple of years with four top-10 finishes."
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished a season-best fourth at Michigan. "We had a good car all weekend," said Menard. "We didn't qualify very well (20th), but I knew the car had some speed in it. It just drove really well all weekend. Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) made some good calls to get some track position. We really needed a good run. I'm really proud of everybody at RCR getting all three cars in the top 10 today. It was a great day for all of us."
ETC.: Menard felt the team "started the season strong," but "just fell off the last couple of months. We have had good cars - we just haven't been able to put together a race and we have been crashing a lot and we just can't do that. We needed a run like Michigan. We were fast all day. This should give us a lot of confidence and momentum for the rest of the year."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 69 points out of the top 10. Team ranks 13th in car owner points, only six points out of the top 10.
BRISTOL RECORD: The team announced Monday that Stewart will miss the rest of the 2013 season with a broken right leg, and Mark Martin will drive the car in 12 of the last 13 races beginning with Bristol. Martin has two wins and 23 top-10 finishes including 16 top-five's in 46 starts at BMS. He's the all-time pole winner with nine.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said "one of my goals is that I want to be able to bring something to the organization in stability, and hopefully we can turn the car back over to Tony an even stronger organization than what it was when he got injured." But Martin quickly added, "But when you do something like the 11 car at Martinsville (where Martin subbed for the injured Denny Hamlin) on four days' notice or going into Bristol with this short of notice, it is like jumping into ice-cold water. It's going to be challenging, and challenges are good for me. I will do everything I can to step up to the plate."
LOOKING BACK: Austin Dillon drove the car at Michigan. And his day began badly when he crashed only 14 laps into the 200-lap event. "I did pretty much exactly what I did not want to do," said Dillon after the race. "I put us behind in the beginning and scared myself a little there. I thought I was going to be able to pass J. J. (Yeley) pretty easy, and I was just too loose on the braking. But thanks to Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys in the pits, we were able to recover and we ran some really fast times in the middle of the race. Our goal was a top-15 finish and we got it (finishing 14th). What a great comeback by the 14 team." Dillon will run one more race in the 14 car - at Talladega in October.
ETC.: Stewart suffered a broken right tibia and fibula in a winged sprint car crash on Aug. 5. The doctors have operated twice on his right leg, and Stewart admits he is in a lot of pain. "We expect a full recovery by Daytona (February 2014) or close to it," said SHR director of competition Greg Zipadelli. "It's a bad break to the leg, and he needs time to go through the process of healing, rehabilitation. With Mark coming on board, I think it gives us the window to go to the end of the year. He was obviously the best option. Tony was very excited about it. That was his first choice, so that's what we went after."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 76 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola hopes "to run a lot better at Bristol than we did in the spring. We know we need a real good weekend to keep alive any hopes of making the Chase. It looks more and more like we need a win to have any shot. But we also need a good run at Bristol to stay in the hunt as we feel real good about Atlanta."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola was forced to make a late-race pit stop for fuel to end any hopes he had of finishing in the top 10. Instead, he had to settle for an 18th-place finish at Michigan. "That was not the day we hoped for," said Almirola. "We had a fast car. Todd (Parrott, crew chief) made two great calls on chassis adjustments to get the splitter back on the ground, and then, we were running times as fast as the leaders. The cautions didn't fall out way, and we had to pit (for gas). We had a good car, but just weren't able to capitalize on it."
ETC.: Very few people get to see a race car pull up in their driveway. But that is exactly what happened last week to Sergeant First Class Howard Kott and his wife Dawn. "We just heard this loud noise and came out to see Aric just driving the 43 down the street," said Knox. "He even set off someone's car alarm. That was really cool." Once Almirola got out of the car, he surprised the Kott family with crew uniforms and VIP passes to the Michigan race. "We want to keep recognizing, honoring and thanking our military veterans, wounded warriors and their families," said Almirola. It was all part of the Operation Homefront program.
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 102 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: One win and 15 top-10 finishes in 39 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton believes the "new" Bristol is "completely different than it was five years ago. To me, it is more of a race now. I know fans enjoyed us beating and banging on one another with all the accidents and tempers flaring, but I think the actual racing is better."
LOOKING BACK: Burton finished eighth at Michigan for his fifth top-10 finish of the season. "It's a good thing to be disappointed with an eighth-place finish," said Burton. "The 31 Cheerios Chevrolet had a lot of speed at times and I think was the best car on the track at times. We just struggled on fresh tires more than other drivers did. When we would put tires on, it seemed like it hurt us more than others. On long runs, our car was really happy and fast. No drama and we got what we deserved."
ETC.: Burton points out "everyone was surprised last year when the high groove (at Bristol) became the preferred line to run. I don't think anyone anticipated that. That usually makes the middle and low lines always open to pass. However, it is really hard to pass. That makes track position even more important."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 107 points out of the top 10, only five points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished 16th in his Cup debut in the spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse believes the team will benefit "from the second time around. Going back to these tracks a second time will help us get better. I'm still hoping for that strong finish like we had in our Nationwide Series rookie campaign in 2010 so we can carry some momentum into next year."
LOOKING BACK: A blown right-front tire on lap 70 ended any hopes Stenhouse had of earning his first top-10 finish of the season. Instead, he had to be content with 19th-place finish. "This is the story of our season," said Stenhouse. "Our Ford was fast and we had worked ourselves into the top-10 and then we blew a right front. I am so proud of my guys. They kept fixing our car from our brake line being loose to cosmetic damage after the impact (with the turn two wall). I definitely think we could have gotten up there and contended for the win, but..."
ETC.: Stenhouse admits his rookie Cup season has been "up and down. I would say that we're right at a C. We've got a lot of room for improvement. We've had some strong runs. We've had speed. We've made good decisions. We haven't got everything to fall our way to capitalize on those. In these Sprint Cup races, you have to have everything fall in place and you have to be fast every week to get those good finishes you're looking for. We definitely got a lot of room for improvement."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 109 points out of the top 10, only seven points out of the top 20. Gained one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished fifth last August for his fourth top-10 finish in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Bristol is a place where I've had some good success in the past. You need to be pretty aggressive all night. It's a long race, and you want to stay on the lead lap and be in position to win in the final 50 laps. You know it's going to be a long night so you race aggressive, but also pick your spots too. We're looking for wins right now."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose rallied in the final 40 laps to finish sixth at Michigan. "We had a good day," said Ambrose. "I'm really proud of Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) for calling a great race. We didn't start (26th) where we wanted, but he had us running near the top-10 all day and we had a good finish. The car was fast on long runs, and we passed a lot of cars today."
ETC.: Ambrose feels the top-10 run at Michigan was a much needed boost for the entire team. "We haven't had a race like that on a longer oval in a while, and that really was a shot in the arm," said Ambrose. "It really helps us, and now, we head into Bristol with a lot of confidence. We don't have to be conservative. We can just really go for it and see if we can get a win. I know this team is capable, and Bristol is a great track for us."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 114 points out of the top 10, 12 points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya is quick to point out "we had a really good Target Chevy the last time we went to Bristol. But we had a fuel pressure issue early on and had to go behind the wall for repairs. It's a shame because when we returned to the track I was going around lead-lap cars with no problem. If that hadn't happened, the Target team would of easily had a top-five finish. This time we're looking for a little redemption and getting the finish we deserve at Bristol."
LOOKING BACK: Montoya finished 11th at Michigan. "It turned out to be a pretty good day for the Target team," said Montoya. "The track was really slick when we first started the race and the car was a handful. The guys made a lot of changes and we were running our fastest lap times toward the end of the race. I just wish we hadn't had to try and save fuel at the end as I think we could have raced our way into the top 10."
ETC.: Michael Andretti said he is trying to find a sponsor so he can hire Montoya to drive one of his IndyCars in 2014. "I have talked to Juan about (returning to) IndyCar and told him 'hell, yeah, let's find a way to put something together," said Andretti. "I've driven against him, and I think he's one of the best drivers I've ever driven against. It just comes down to sponsorship." Montoya was told last week his contract would not be extended at EGR.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 224 points out of the top 10.
BRISTOL RECORD: Won the August race a year ago. Has seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: It has been a rough summer for Hamlin and the 11 team as they have not finished better than 18th in the last nine races. The last top-10 finish came at Pocono in early June. But with Bristol next on the schedule, Hamlin feels "we are ready to get back to running good. Bristol has always been one of our better tracks."
LOOKING BACK: An untimely caution flag and handling problems throughout the afternoon left Hamlin in 20th place at the end of the day. "We were just so loose in traffic," said Hamlin. "I wasn't able to get into the corner how I would like to, and it really hindered our speed in the middle of the corner and down the straightaway."
ETC.: Hamlin believes "we are getting closer and closer each week to being back to the competition level we should be at, and hopefully we can show the strength of our race team in the next few weeks. We've got some really good tracks coming up for us. So we feel good about the future."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: The team is 19th in the car owner point standings, 66 points out of the top 10.
BRISTOL RECORD: Vickers will drive the 55 car in 12 of the last 13 races this season after the team released Mark Martin from his contract so he could sub for the injured Tony Stewart. Vickers finished eighth in the spring race for his third straight top-eight finish at BMS.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers said, "I didn't think things could get any better than last week's announcement with Aaron's to run full time in 2014, but having a chance to run the rest of the 2013 season creates a tremendous opportunity for our team. I'm confident that spending more time working with the 55 crew will only help improve our already strong performance to date, giving us the momentum needed to start the 2014 season off strong in Daytona."
LOOKING BACK: Martin almost won his last race in the 55 car as he was leading Michigan with four laps to go. But he ran out of gas and ended the day in 27th place. "We needed another caution to make it," said Martin. "We had the speed to pull it out. Kudos to Rodney Childers (crew chief), they went for it and rolled the dice. It's not crazy to expect a caution at the end of these NASCAR races. We had to run a little harder than we would have liked to stay ahead of Joey (Logano). We just needed another caution and we could have pulled it off."
ETC.: Waltrip was quick to thank Martin for making our organization "stronger, better and more confident and more focused than the day he showed up. Mark's leadership the past two years has been so impactful that he has left a mark on this company that will be here as long as we race. With Mark, we accomplished everything we hoped to when he came to this organization, which was bringing that winning confidence to the team, the experience to help elevate our program." Waltrip will drive the 55 car at Talladega in October.