Challenges abound for drivers in today’s Food City 500

BMS Friday

Kyle Larson

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The pre-race conversations at Bristol Motor Speedway were once simple.

From the campground to the media center, folks would engage in lively debates about the prospects of Bristol dominators such as Dale Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.

Entering today’s Food City 500, the hot topic is the application of a substance called VHT that is designed to give drivers more traction in the bottom groove of the corners and thus create a more compelling show.

The sticky compound, familiar to drag strips and short tracks, was first used in the BMS Night Race and Xfinity Series event last August and it generated favorable reviews among drivers such as seven-time series Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

“I commend Bristol for trying in that wish-land space to do something here at the bottom. Here it’s worked,” said Johnson, who has just one career BMS victory. “In the driver’s council meeting after our fall race here, we were all eager to make sure it was back down.”

Current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson will start from the pole today after Friday’s qualifying session was rained out. And according to the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, the altered Bristol stage will favor drivers with experience and courage.

“I think you’ll see some of the veterans, the older guys that did get to run on the old Bristol probably excel if it does end up being around the bottom,” Larson said. “But Bristol is Bristol. It’s an aggressive track and I still feel like I should be OK once we get to racing.”

Few drivers are more aggressive than Larson. In Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 Xfinity Series at BMS, the Elk Grove, California, native was able to execute passes on the bottom and high side of the high-banked concrete oval.

“The VHT is wider than the width of our race cars now too, which makes it extremely easy to run around the bottom and not a lot of fun,” Larson said. “Maybe some guys like it, but I think it looks like old Bristol because we are all running around the bottom. I just don’t see how that is fun. So, we will see.”

Larson offered a layman’s description of the BMS challenge.

“Now it’s like you just fire off from the corner and it doesn’t really matter where you enter as long as your right sides are in the grip. You are going to rip around the corner,” Larson said. “It just makes it too easy for us and I don’t think that is good for racing.”

Larson, 24, has a top finish of seventh in the six career Cup starts at BMS. With qualifying washed out Friday, he earned the pole position based on points.

“It’s nice to be the points leader and to be starting up front here at Bristol,” Larson said. “I always race really well here, I just don’t ever qualify good. Being handed the pole like this will hopefully help us out.”

Twenty-four of the 112 Cup Series races held at Bristol since 1961 have been won from the pole.

Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano round out the top five starters.

Elliott embarked on a research mission during Friday’s practice session before spinning out in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

While Kyle Busch has struggled along with the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team this season, he’s always a factor at Bristol where his resume includes five Cup victories along with eight Xfinity and four Truck series wins.

“I think nothing comes close to the week that we had here in 2010 in the fall when I won the Truck race, the Xfinity race and the Cup race all in the same weekend,” Busch said.

“That was awfully special to pull off, with as much things and as much carnage that can happen here. It certainly made for an awesome weekend and one for the record books.”

Busch said it still take another special effort to win today.

“There’s five guys, maybe even seven guys that walk in here thinking this is our weekend to get a win,” Busch said. “So you’ve got to fight those guys in order to go out there and get that win for yourself.”

Busch mentioned Larson was one of those potential winners.

“I’m sure Larson’s thrilled and he’ll have to rubber in the top himself while the rest of us are rooting and gouging for the bottom,” Busch said.

Read More
%d bloggers like this: