Bristol 101: TV times, key stats, revised procedures and more
The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Tennessee hills for its first short-track race since the COVID-19 shutdown. Bristol Motor Speedway will play host to Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM), an event originally scheduled April 5 before its postponement.
As with other events held since NASCAR returned to action after the coronavirus outbreak, the 500-lap race will be held without fans in attendance, and only a limited amount of essential personnel will be permitted on the track’s grounds. It will mark the fifth Cup Series race in NASCAR’s return and the ninth race overall this season.
With plenty to sort out ahead of NASCAR’s first trip of the year to “The Last Great Colosseum”, here‘s a primer with helpful information for Sunday’s showdown on the last day of May.
Bristol Motor Speedway is a .533-mile oval that held its first Cup Series event on July 30, 1961. Jack Smith was credited as the winner of that day’s Volunteer 500, but Johnny Allen took the checkered flag as a relief driver after Smith exited his No. 46 Pontiac with heat exhaustion and burns on his foot. Both drivers celebrated in Victory Lane, but Smith’s name sticks in the record books. Allen drove the final 209 laps.
The track’s concrete surface measures 650 feet long in the straightaways and the variable banking in the turns ranges from 24 to 28 degrees. The frontstretch is banked from 5 to 9 degrees and the backstraight is angled at a 4- to 8-degree tilt.
Sunday’s 500-lapper will be the 119th race for NASCAR’s top division on the Tennessee track.
Stage 1 is set to end at Lap 125, Stage 2 at Lap 250, and the final stage is slated to conclude on Lap 500.
Sunday’s Supermarket Heroes 500 will be held without practice and qualifying as NASCAR tries to limit exposure for on-site personnel to control the spread of coronavirus. Wednesday’s lineup was determined by a random draw among groups in the team owner standings:
Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points
Pit-stall selection for Sunday’s race will be based on the finishing order from Thursday’s Cup Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For more information about starting-lineup procedures for national-series races scheduled without qualifying, click here.
The 2020 NASCAR rules package for short tracks will be in effect with a tapered spacer used to set a target of 750 horsepower. The cars will use a reduced downforce package with a shorter spoiler, a shorter splitter overhang and other aerodynamic changes.
Bristol is not your average short track: There are three factors that stand out when it comes to racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. First, the banking creates more speed and load than the “flatter” Martinsville Speedway or Richmond Raceway. This makes Bristol race more like a speedway than a short track in some ways. Second, Bristol has a full concrete surface, which wears tires fairly aggressively when the track is “green” with no rubber built up on it. Goodyear designs its tread compounds for Bristol to take the right amount of rubber and not “cake up” on the surface, leaving cars with a good level of grip. Third is the fact that Goodyear, NASCAR and the track operations staff will work together to apply the PJ1 grip compound to the lower four feet of both sets of corners for this weekend‘s races. While this does impact tire wear, its primary purpose is to give drivers a competitive, alternate lane late in the race after many cars work their way up the track and make the upper lane the fastest way around.
“Bristol provides several unique challenges for both Goodyear and the race teams,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear‘s director of racing. “We have worked hard in recent years to refine the tread compounds that we bring there, as well as the other concrete tracks on the circuit. The key with concrete is to get it to take rubber, but just the right amount of rubber. It is easy to see that process once the race starts as the track turns from white to black, and lighten again as cars pick up some of that rubber when they are not at speed under cautions. Also, the tire constructions we bring to Bristol are more similar to what is run on speedways because of the speed in the high-banked corners and the level of load placed on the tires. You also have to consider that PJ1 comes into play at Bristol. While the track has progressive banking, adding the grip compound to the bottom lane in the corners gives the drivers a viable, second groove. Teams will likely stay down low early in the race, but as more cars move up top and work that third groove into the fastest lane, the bottom will remain comparable and be a place where drivers can go to make passes.”
New right-side tire for Cup, Xfinity at Bristol: Teams in both the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will run the same tire set-up at Bristol this week . . . these teams ran this same left-side tire code in both races at Bristol last year, but this is a brand new right-side tire code . . . compared to what Cup and Xfinity teams ran at Bristol in 2019, this right-side features a construction update that Goodyear has been rolling into most speedways . . . this is the only track at which these teams will run either of these two tire codes in 2020 . . . unlike on most NASCAR ovals 1 mile or less in length, on which teams generally do not run inner liners in their tires, teams are required to run liners in their right-side tires only at Bristol . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.
STATS TO KNOW
— Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch have a firm grip on the top reaches of Bristol Motor Speedway’s win list among active drivers. Younger brother Kyle leads the way with eight Bristol wins, just ahead of Kurt’s six. Matt Kenseth, who recently rejoined the Cup Series full-time, is next on the list with four career wins at the Tennessee track. Darrell Waltrip’s 12 Bristol wins head the overall record book.
— Bristol Motor Speedway is known for full-contact racing, and the amount of caution periods typically backs that notion. The last 15 Cup Series races have each had at least eight yellow flags. Bristol races have hit 20 cautions on three occasions (1989, 1997, 2003). Only once in the track’s history has a Bristol race gone green from wire to wire: “Chargin’ ” Charlie Glotzbach was the winner of that caution-free event in July 1971, leading 411 of 500 laps to best runner-up Bobby Allison by a three-lap margin of victory in the Volunteer 500.
— Kevin Harvick kept his grip on the Cup Series points lead after a 10th-place result Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he also kept his streak of top-10 finishes to start the season intact. The Stewart-Haas Racing veteran is the only driver to claim top 10s in every race this year; his overall streak dating back to 2019 stretches to 13 straight top 10s. Harvick has also accumulated the most points of any driver in NASCAR’s four-race return since the pandemic outbreak. He has also led the most laps (391) this season.
— Martin Truex Jr. has won three of the Cup Series’ last four races on short tracks, including a season sweep last year at Richmond Raceway and a postseason triumph at Martinsville Speedway. The lone defeat in that stretch: A 13th-place outcome in Bristol’s night race last August, when he pitted with a flat right-front tire in the final stage. Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has won the Cup Series’ last five short-track events — the three wins from Truex, plus one each from Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
— Hendrick Motorsports’ surge in speed this season has pushed the organization to the top of several statistical categories. Hendrick Motorsports has led the most laps of any team this season, pacing 692 laps in the eight races so far. It’s a significant edge over team Penske (512) and Stewart-Haas Racing (478) in the early going. Hendrick drivers have also won eight of the 17 stages in 2020. HMS driver Alex Bowman leads the series with four stage wins, having amassed three of those during the most recent two events at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Source: NASCAR statistics, Racing Insights
Tune in to television coverage from Bristol Motor Speedway on FS1 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET) and the FOX sports App. For full radio coverage, listen in to PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on-air.
For a more interactive experience, head over to NASCAR.com or the NASCAR app to check out an enhanced Race Center, live Lap-by-Lap coverage, the customizable live leaderboard with Scanner (which is FREE for both races), and the return of Drive (featuring in-car cameras).
Kyle Busch drove away from a five-car crash on Lap 2, taking a dinged No. 18 Toyota to victory in the Food City 500. He held off his brother, Kurt, to register his eighth Bristol Motor Speedway triumph and his 54th in the Cup Series.