Philadelphia, PA – The Sprint Cup Series runs its first track race of the season on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Who might be next?
Quite possibly Kyle Busch, judging on his previous performances at Bristol. Busch has won 12 NASCAR races at this 0.533-mile, high-banked track so far, with five of those wins in Sprint Cup.
In fact, he has won four of the last six Sprint Cup races there.
"I'm not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol," Busch said. "I've just had a lot of success there, but I've also had some misfortune there. 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. When they changed the track to this current surface, I just really took to it right away."
Busch won at Bristol one year ago but finished 14th there last August. He cut a tire and made contact with the wall late in that race.
"I think I missed a little bit of some of that stuff last fall, just not having the car set up right and trying too many different things that we're not quite used to," he said. "We ventured from the path a little bit, and it seems like, when you can get a good setup somewhere, you ought to stick with it and try to just fine-tune on it a little bit instead of saying, 'This isn't working this time or it's not working on this tire.' The track, most of the time, will influence how your setup should be, not the tire."
Brad Keselowski won the August 2011 race at Bristol, doing so with a broken ankle and a sore back, which he sustained during a crash while testing earlier that month at Road Atlanta.
Keselowski's hot streak during the summer months last season allowed him to clinch one of the two wild-card positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He finished fifth in points in his first Chase appearance.
Right now, Keselowski is sitting 21st in points. He finished 32nd at both Daytona and Las Vegas. Keselowski placed fifth at Phoenix.
"It's unfortunate that we've encountered the issues that we have, because I honestly believe we should have top-five finishes in every race thus far, he said. "That's racing, though. There are two very large pieces to winning a race -- speed and execution. We have the speed. Now we just need to learn from our mistakes and execute better. Execution is the easier of the two to fix. Bristol is a great place for us to put everything together. We've all tasted success there, and we can do it again."
One driver who's been making significant gains in the point standings the past couple of weeks is Jimmie Johnson. After completing only one lap and finishing 42nd in the Daytona 500, Johnson has posted two straight top-five finishes -- fourth at Phoenix and second at Las Vegas.
Johnson left Daytona minus-23 in points due to his disappointing finish there and his team's loss of 25 points for rules violations that occurred during the February 17 opening-day inspection for the Daytona 500.
He is now 23rd in the rankings and trails leader Greg Biffle by 64 points. Biffle has finished third in each of the first three races.
Johnson won at Bristol for the first time two years ago.
"I'm so proud of the one win I have there," he said. "It's been such a tough track on me over the years that I really want another trophy there. We've been very close, and I think we'll be a threat."
Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports lost its appeal to overturn the severe penalties assessed by NASCAR to Johnson's No. 48 team for the Daytona violation -- an illegal part (C-post) found on his car during inspection.
In addition to Johnson's points loss, crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec were suspended for six Sprint Cup races. Knaus received a $100,000 fine as well.
Since team owner Rick Hendrick has requested a final appeal to National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook, Knaus and Malec will be able to participate in this weekend's activities at Bristol.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Food City 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, March 18. Race: Food City 500. Site: Bristol Motor Speedway. Track: 0.533-mile oval. Start time: 1:00 p.m.(et). Laps: 500. Miles: 266.5. 2011 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: FOX. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.