Fuel & Tires: Bristol for NASCAR; IndyCar hits Alabama
Following a rare weekend off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway for what is always an entertaining race. The series has held two races at Thunder Valley in eastern Tennessee since 1961 and Kurt Busch is the winningest active driver with four wins in the spring race (he's also one the fall race once).
Busch's brother Kyle is the only other multiple spring race winner in the field, winning three times in the spring (and twice in the fall). Last year's winner was the recently retired Carl Edwards while Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson (who won two weeks ago at Texas) and Kevin Harvick have also picked up wins in the spring.
Through seven races so far this season, there have been six different winners with Keselowski the only repeat winner. Points leader Kyle Larson has two top-ten finishes in six starts at Bristol and has finished no lower than 17th in the last twelve races dating back to last season. Larson has been impressive so far this season with five top-two finishes in the last six races.
Chase Elliott, who sits second in points, finished fourth here last year and has five top-ten finishes in the last six races. If these two can stay out of trouble for 500 laps, what fun it would be to see them battle each other for their first Bristol win.
I'm interested to see if the 162,000-capacity track will look more than half-full, as last year's crowd was a shadow of what the speedway used to draw. One would think with the new stage format, more people would make the pilgrimage to the world's fastest half-mile to see it for themselves.
Coverage of the Food City 500 starts at 1 p.m. Sunday on FOX.
INDYCAR HEADS SOUTH
The Verizon IndyCar Series, still on a high coming off last week's announcement that two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will compete in this year's Indianapolis 500, goes road course racing at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. The 2.38-mile track has hosted IndyCar since 2010.
Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud dueled wheel-to-wheel with Graham Rahal to take the win last year while both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud's Team Penske teammate Will Power have each won here twice. Josef Newgarden, another one of Pagenaud's teammates, took his maiden win here in 2015 and two-time Indy 500 winner (and yet another teammate of Pagenaud) Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race.
Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has never won at Alabama, but he does have six top-three finishes in seven starts. Considering his Chip Ganassi Racing team is winless yet this season, he will no doubt be looking to improve on that.
Sebastien Bourdais, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg and finished second at Long Beach, currently leads the points. His Dale Coyne Racing team has never been in this position in its 30-plus years in IndyCar. It's a similar story for James Hinchcliffe and his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team who won at Long Beach two weeks ago and sits second in points.
The fact that these two drivers and teams have outperformed the power trio of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport is an amazing story. The question is, will it continue?
Penske, Ganassi and Andretti will no doubt be doubling their efforts to get out ahead and erase their deficit, but they may wait until May when they try to pull back out in front at Indianapolis. In any case, this weekend's race promises to be an unpredictable affair and that's always exciting.
Coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama starts at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network.
The local tracks are starting to prepare for the upcoming racing season. Jefferson Speedway will hold its spring opener Saturday, April 29 while Madison International Speedway has the Joe Shear Classic 200 on Sunday, May 7.
Rockford Speedway gets its season underway this weekend with the 40th Anniversary Spring Classic at 1 p.m. Sunday including the Big 8 Late Model Series, Mid-American Series and INEX Legends. Tickets are $20 adults and $6 kids ages 6-11. Visit rockfordspeedway.com for more information.
Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator for The Gazette and an auto racing fan. Follow him on Twitter at @achtungvon or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.