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NASCAR Driver Capsules

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Mar 14 2013 08:02:29 AM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the points standings and five additional drivers of note.

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remains in first place in the Sprint Cup standings for the third consecutive week. He leads second-ranked Brad Keselowski by five points and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 10 points.

BRISTOL RECORD: 22 career starts, one win, seven top-fives, 13 top-10s, one pole. Best career finish: first in March 2010. Finished ninth in this race last year, and second in the August race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is looking to pick up where he left off at Bristol in August, when he finished second. He's tried to earn a second win there but just hasn't been able to do it. Perhaps Sunday will be his day. Here are Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think the mechanical aspects will help the cars at Bristol. The last time there, we were very curious about the grinding and what would happen and what wouldn't. The track just changed in some ways and we will just go back and get in a rhythm and see what happens. For the longest time we were not competitive at that track. Now we're in the mix and I'm really happy about that."

LOOKING BACK: Three races thus far into the 2013 season and Johnson has been outstanding, winning the season-opening Daytona 500, finishing second at Phoenix and leading 66 laps en route to a sixth-place finish this past Sunday at Las Vegas.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 97.7 percent (10,764) of 11,013 laps in his 22 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 15.9 and average finish is 14.0. He has one DNF there.

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski remains in second place for the second consecutive week, five points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson and five points ahead of third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.

BRISTOL RECORD: Six career starts, two wins, two top-fives, two top-10s and zero poles. Best career finish: first in August 2011 and March 2012. Finished first in this race last year, only to suffer to a career-worst 30th-place finish in August.

LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has had the best start to the season of any driver in the Sprint Cup series, including points leader Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski has finished no lower than fourth in any of the first three races, a trend he hopes to continue at Bristol, where by the way he won at last March. Here's what Keselowski had to say about his start thus far in 2013: "I feel like we've had a shot at winning all three. That's something to be really proud of. We certainly had the speed to do it the last two weeks, and the execution to do it at Daytona. (We) just caught a bad break and just didn't quite execute it (at Las Vegas). I want to win really bad, but I guess the consolation is starting out the year with three solid finishes and a top five and just kind of backing up where we finished last year with solid runs."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led just 12 laps but still wound up with a very strong third-place finish at Las Vegas. In his first three races, the defending Sprint Cup champion has finishes of fourth at both Daytona and Phoenix and third at Las Vegas.

ETC.: Keselowski has completed 97.8 percent (2,933) of 3,000 laps in six career starts. His average start is 14.8 and average finish is 13.7. He has zero DNFs at Bristol.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped from a tie for second to third place after the Las Vegas race. He is 10 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, five points behind second-ranked Brad Keselowski and 17 points ahead of fourth-place Denny Hamlin.

BRISTOL RECORD: 26 career starts, one win, seven top-fives, 12 top-10s and zero poles. Best career finish: first in August 2004. Finished 15th in this race last year and was 12th there in August.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has struggled at times in recent years at Bristol, uncharacteristic of the way he used to wheel around the half-mile bull ring in Eastern Tennessee. Here are his thoughts about Sunday's race: "I love racing at Bristol and short track racing in general. I look forward to going there every trip. It's always a tough race, and hopefully, we will come out on top."

LOOKING BACK: After finishing second in the season-opening Daytona 500, and fifth at Phoenix, Earnhardt was seventh at Las Vegas. He did not lead any laps but stayed close to the leaders most of the race.

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.9 percent (12,865) of 13,013 laps in his 26 starts at Bristol. His average start is 21.3 and average finish is significantly better 11.8. He also has one DNF.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Hamlin remained in fourth place for the second consecutive week. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 27 points, third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points and leads fifth-ranked Carl Edwards by four points.

BRISTOL RECORD: 14 career starts, one win, four top-fives, seven top-10s, zero poles. Best career finish: First in August 2012. Finished 20th in this race last year and came back to win the August race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin has a double dose of motivation to do well Sunday at Bristol. First, he's coming off a frustrating 15th place finish at Las Vegas. Second and more importantly, he won the last time he was at Bristol, in August.

Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch are already learning things from teammate Matt Kenseth, who joined the organization this season and won this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Here's what team owner Joe Gibbs says about Kenseth's interaction, particularly with Hamlin and Busch:

"Obviously, Matt has just been special. I mean, he came over, I think he brings a lot to (the organization). I think Denny and Kyle both really respect him. I think that's helped a lot. I think (Kenseth) kind of likes working with them, so we've got three guys that really, I think, can get after it and drive a race car. I'm really happy, too."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin struggled at Las Vegas, leading just three laps before finishing a disappointing 15th.

ETC.: Hamlin has completed 95.3 percent (6,681) of 7,013 laps in his 14 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 20.6 and average finish is 14.8. He has one DNF there.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards jumped six spots in the standings, from 11th to fifth, after Las Vegas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 31 points, fourth-ranked Denny Hamlin by four points and leads sixth-ranked Mark Martin by three points.

BRISTOL RECORD: 17 career starts, two wins, four top-fives, seven top-10s, two poles. Best career finish: First in August 2007 and August 2008. Finished 39th in this race last year and was 22nd in August there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards typically does well at Bristol, but not last season, when he finished a career-worst 39th in the March race and 22nd in the August race. He's looking to continue the momentum he has from a win at Phoenix and a fifth-place finish at Las Vegas.

LOOKING BACK: Edwards ran a strong race but failed to lead even one lap at Las Vegas. Still, he finished with a top-5 to go along with the win he had the week before at Phoenix. Here are his thoughts about the Las Vegas race: "We wanted better, but I think if I would have done a better job on my restarts then we would have been better. We were sliding all over the place out there. I am sure we wore out some steering boxes and that was a good race. That was as hard as we could drive."

ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.0 percent (8,084) of 8,513 laps in his 17 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 18.4 and average finish is 14.4. He has one DNF there.

55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping from third to seventh after Phoenix, Mark Martin rebounded to gain back one position in the standings after Las Vegas, leaving him in sixth place. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 34 points, fifth-place Carl Edwards by three points and leads seventh-place (tie) Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle by two points each.

BRISTOL RECORD: 46 career starts, two wins, 16 top-fives, 23 top-10s and nine poles. Best career finish: first in August 1993 and August 1998. Did not compete in either race at Bristol in 2012.

LOOKING AHEAD: Unfortunately, Martin will not be racing Sunday at Bristol. He'll be replaced by Brian Vickers who did well in filling in for Martin in last year's Bristol races, finishing fifth in the March race and a career-best fourth in the August race. This will be the first of nine races in the first 26 pre-Chase for the Sprint Cup races that Martin will miss by choice. He is also slated to miss three Chase races. When it came to his two top-five finishes at Bristol last season in place of Martin, Vickers said, "(We

were) pleased, but not satisfied. I would have loved to have won one of those races and we came very close. Obviously, very pleased with the results and how it all worked out considering it was part-time."

LOOKING BACK: After finishing third in the season-opening Daytona 500, the 29th time he's been in the Great American Race, Martin had a disappointing 21st place finish at Phoenix and finished 14th at Las Vegas.

ETC.: Martin has completed 94.1 percent (21,488) of 22,845 laps in 46 career starts at Bristol. He has an average start of 10.3 and an average finish of 13.7. He has five DNFs there. Vickers has completed 96.3 percent (7,720) of 8,013 laps in 16 career starts at Bristol. He has an average start of 23.4 and an average finish of 22.1. He also has one DNF there.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth was the biggest mover in the top 10 after Las Vegas, climbing 11 spots from 18th to a tie for seventh place with former teammate Greg Biffle. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 36 points each, sixth-ranked Mark Martin by two points and lead ninth-ranked Clint Bowyer by four points.

BRISTOL RECORD: 26 career starts, two wins, 10 top-fives, 17 top-10s, one pole. Best career finish: First in August 2005 and August 2006. Finished 2nd in this race last year and was 25th there last August.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth comes into Bristol with a big head of steam, having won his first race for Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday at Las Vegas. He also is looking to repeat his strong finish at Bristol last March, when he finished second. Here are Kenseth's thoughts about his win at Las Vegas and looking ahead to Bristol: "Coach (Joe Gibbs) hired me to come in there and climb in that car and win races, so you certainly want to do that and you don't want to disappoint people. I'm glad we got a win, but it's still only Week 3. I feel like this is the beginning, you know, and have a lot of confidence, had a lot of confidence after our first meeting and decided to go do this and just had a great feeling about it. ... It's always great to get a win early in the season, but you certainly don't want to act like it stops. You want to go to the next one and start thinking about Bristol and what we're going to try to do there. That's the great thing about the sport, it never stops -- you only get to enjoy it for a couple days. It feels really great to get the win, and hopefully that'll keep some momentum going for our team."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led just 42 laps, but the most important was the last one, as he won at Las Vegas. It was his first win for Joe Gibbs Racing and also in a Toyota. Plus, it was on Kenseth's 41st birthday, making him only the third driver in Cup history to win on their birthday.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.7 percent (12,711) of 13,013 laps in his 26 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 12.1. He has three DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle dropped one position from sixth into a tie with Matt Kenseth for seventh. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 36 points each, follow sixth-ranked Mark Martin by two points and lead ninth-ranked Clint Bowyer by four points.

BRISTOL RECORD: 20 career starts, zero wins, six top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. Best career finish: third in August 2005. Finished 13th in this race last year (after starting from the pole) and was 19th in the August race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle just can't catch a break at Bristol. Even though he spent the early part of his career racing on short tracks up and down the West Coast, Biffle has never been able to figure out Bristol's half-mile enough to earn his first win there. But he's hoping to change that on Sunday. Here are Biffle's thoughts on Bristol: "I'm looking forward to Bristol now that Las Vegas is behind us. We run hard at Bristol, which is always fun and exciting. I cannot wait to get to Bristol and redeem ourselves. We are a better team than we've been running; we made a mistake last week. Track position is key. You've got to be up front and stay out front. Seems like it's harder and harder to pass since all the teams are getting close together and the cars are getting close together. It's going to take being out front, good pit stops and a good pit stall selection to win at Bristol this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle typically does very well on 1.5-mile tracks, but not this past Sunday at Las Vegas, where he struggled to a 17th-place finish.

ETC.: Biffle has completed 98.2 percent (9,830) of 10,013 laps in his 20 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 12.9 and average finish is 12.2. He also has one DNF there.

5 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After jumping from 10th to fourth place after Phoenix, Clint Bowyer dropped five spots in the standings after Las Vegas to ninth place. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 40 points, follows the seventh-place tie between Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle by four points and leads 10th-ranked Aric Almirola by one point.

BRISTOL RECORD: 14 career starts, zero wins, four top-fives, seven top-10s, zero poles. Best career finish: Third in August 2007 and March 2008. Finished fourth in this race last year and was seventh in the August race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is determined to bounce back from his terrible showing at Las Vegas. He'll also be in a unique car on Sunday, carrying colors of NAPA Auto Parts. Here are his thoughts about that: "To race a No. 15 NAPA car for Michael Waltrip Racing carries a lot of meaning for everyone involved. Michael Waltrip raced those colors with that number to some very significant wins -- including two Daytona 500s. I think it will be great to see NAPA back on the No. 15 this weekend. I know it will mean a lot to Michael, the folks at NAPA and also to me. I'd love to put that car back in Victory Lane for Michael and the folks at NAPA -- plus, it's Bristol baby! I'd just love to get a win there because I think it's such an amazing racetrack. We ran well at Daytona and Phoenix, but struggled last weekend at Vegas. We'll be much better this weekend. Bristol is just good old-fashioned racing and I think the fans will see a heck of show Sunday. It's good to be back short track racing again."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a terrible car all weekend at Las Vegas and finished 27th, the first driver down a lap on the leaders at the end of the race.

ETC.: Bowyer has completed 91.7 percent (6,433) of 7,013 laps in his 14 career starts at Bristol. His average start is 20.1 and average finish is 17.0. He also has two DNFs there.

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Aric Almirola dropped two places in the standings, from a three-way tie for eighth place to sole possession of 10th place after Las Vegas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 41 points, follows ninth-ranked Clint Bowyer by one point and leads 11th-ranked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by one point.

BRISTOL RECORD: Seven career starts, zero wins, zero top-fives, one top-10 and zero poles. Best career finish: Eighth in March 2008. Finished 19th in this race last year, and was 35th in the August race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola turns 29 on Thursday, and what better place to have a birthday celebration than at Bristol, a track his team owner, Richard Petty, dominated at for much of his own racing career. Plus, the fact he's still in the top-10 after the first three races has Almirola riding high. He's even thinking his first career Sprint Cup win is right around the corner, perhaps as soon as Sunday. "Yeah, I really do feel that way, and confidence is key. I know you guys talk about that all the time, and it's hard to put your finger on how you get it, why you get it and stuff like that. But you know, chemistry is a big deal and confidence is a big deal. I feel like we've got both of those things going. We show up to the racetrack and we expect to run in the Top-10. And you look at the race teams that compete and that consistently finish in the Top-10, the Top 15, eventually they win races, and we think the same thing. ... At the beginning of the year, we sat down and made a list of goals, and that is No. 1 on our list of goals is to put that 43 car back in victory lane."

LOOKING BACK: After finishing 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500, and 15th at Phoenix, Almirola finished 16th at Las Vegas, his worst outing this season.

ETC.: Almirola has completed just 79.1 percent (2,777) of 3,509 laps in seven career starts at Bristol. He has an average start of 18.7 and a rough average finish of 26.4. He also has two DNFs there.

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week to fall out of the top 10.

BRISTOL RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished in the top six in both Nationwide races last year, including a second in the August event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Bristol's lap times are almost the same in both the Nationwide and Cup series. We've run decent there in the Nationwide series so I feel confident going into this weekend. We will focus on qualifying well because you want to start up near the front. I think our Best Buy Ford should have a solid finish if we can start close to the front, make the needed adjustments throughout the race, and stay out of trouble."

LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 18th at Las Vegas. "We were too tight," said Stenhouse. "I kept telling them to free it up and we would get tighter and tighter. That is what gave up all our track position. We were running in the top 10 (early in the race) no problem, but then we got way too tight for some reason. Every pit stop we made we got tighter and tighter. So I don't know if something is broke and kept getting worse and worse or what the deal was."

ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves knows "Bristol is a tough track because anything can happen. It is a long race. Track position is crucial. If we can stay out of trouble and execute on pit road, I feel confident that we can get a top-10 finish."

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only six points out of the top 10. Gained five spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished 10th in both races last year. Has three top-10 finishes in the last four races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "Short tracks are the heart of our sport and Bristol is the type of track that NASCAR was built around. We've had some good runs at Bristol the past couple of years, so we are looking forward to this weekend and seeing what the 27 Sylvania/Menards Chevrolet can do. If we can qualify well, stay up front on Sunday and stay out of trouble, I think we'll be in good shape."

LOOKING BACK: Menard was all smiles after finishing 10th at Las Vegas for his first top-10 finish of the season. "We had a great car today," said Menard. "Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and the team did a phenomenal job giving me a fast Schrock/Menards Chevrolet. It was a lot of fun to drive today. The 27 pit crew did an awesome job in the pits and got me several spots on pit road. All-in-all, it was a good day."

ETC.: Menard's contract with Richard Childress Racing ends at the end of this season "so I'm sure these questions (about his future with the team) will be coming throughout the year. I hope by the middle of summer we will have an answer for everybody." Menard said he hopes to remain a part of the organization for years to come.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, nine points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week to fall out of the top 10.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished third last August for his second third-place finish in the last three events. His five wins tie him for the most victories among active drivers. Overall, he has 22 top-10 finishes, including 16 top-five's in 40 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is glad the top groove is back being the place to race at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I remember seeing guys like Darrell (Waltrip) and Davey (Allison) run that high line back in 1991 or 1992," said Gordon. "I was watching them from the spotters' stand and it was so cool to see them running right up against the wall. It was hard to pass, so you would see 'slide jobs' when they got a run. That's essentially the same kind of racing we had there in August. I had so much fun racing that way that night."

LOOKING BACK: While his three teammates at Hendrick Motorsports were running in the top six or seven all afternoon, Gordon struggled big time at Las Vegas. "The car was wicked loose all day," said Gordon, who ended up 25th. "We were just way off all day. We just missed it and nothing we did seemed to help."

ETC.: When asked if the $25,000 fine levied by NASCAR against Denny Hamlin for his comments on the Gen-6 car was going to change the way he approached media interviews, Gordon said, "No, I'm going to go about it the same way that I always do. I feel like I try to think before I say anything. I try to think if this is going to be something that is going to negatively affect the sport, negatively affect my sponsors or myself, my team and is it worth it. I try to do that when I am doing interviews, and when I'm talking about things that are going on. When I get out of the car, I'm usually pretty good at being able to do that and think about that."

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 11 points out of the top 10. Gained 17 spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished ninth last August for his third top-nine finish in the last five races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne doesn't believe the new Gen-6 car will have much of an impact on the racing at Bristol this weekend. "That track is so unique and so different and knowing how we race there, you'll probably still have that similar race that we've had in the past. That's just one unique place where you have 43 cars on that small (half-mile) of a race track with so much banking."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne dominated the Las Vegas race as he led six times for a race-high 114 laps, but a long pit stop on his final stop of the day dropped him to sixth for the last restart and he was not able to get around Matt Kenseth in a stirring 30-lap duel. "I caught him," said Kahne. "I just couldn't pass him. We definitely had the best car today. When I got to him at the end, my tires got a little greasy. I think it was the two runs on the left-side tires that made it a little more difficult to pass that final run. We still had a great day (finishing second). My engine was unbelievable, the car was perfect and the guys did an awesome job. We just didn't get the win."

ETC.: Crew chief Kenny Francis smiles as he admits, "Kasey and I do kind of communicate by osmosis sometimes it seems like. We've been together for a long time. He's the only driver I've had for a while now. Between Kasey, myself and my engineer, Keith Rodden, we've all been together for a number of years. We can even look at each other and tell what we're thinking or what's going on."

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained six spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished eighth in the August race for his first top-10 finish in eight starts. He led 139 laps in the night event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "There has always been a special feeling about Bristol. It's just so unique from everywhere else we go. You just don't see a lot of places that look like it, from the size (half-mile) to the high banks to the grandstands surrounding the place. It's just different there, both as a fan and as a driver."

LOOKING BACK: Logano was penalized for speeding as he left pit road after his first pit stop and he spent the rest of the race trying to overcome this penalty. "I felt like we had a top-five car, but just made a mistake," said Logano, who ended the day in 12th place. "I screwed up and sped down pit road on the first stop. I never really had an opportunity to recover good enough to show what we had. The guys gave me a really good race car today."

ETC.: Logano points out "even though we aren't running the speeds we do at a lot of other places, things happen faster at Bristol than almost anywhere else we go. And that makes it exciting. It's unpredictable. And because of that, it's always a fan favorite."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 14 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished fifth in the August race last year for his fourth top-10 finish in eight starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said he "really likes Bristol. You are up on the wheel for all 500 laps of the race. That's the kind of racing I like and really excel at. It is definitely one of the tracks that fit my style of racing."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose battled an extremely loose race car all day as he finished 22nd at Las Vegas. "It was a long day for everyone on the Stanley Racing crew," said Ambrose. "The car was really loose, and it was frustrating. I know Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) tried everything today to help it go faster for me. We did the best we could today under the circumstances, and now, we'll go (to Bristol) and make up the ground we lost today."

ETC.: Ambrose admits "the last few weeks have been tough. The cars have not been as good as we know they can be. I know the guys are back at the shop working their butts off so we can have a good finish this weekend (at Bristol). We fell back to 16th in the points last week and have got to get back up in the top 12. The only way to do that is post good finishes and get some wins."

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained 16 spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: In the last nine races, he has four victories and six top-nine finishes. Overall, he has five wins and 11 top-10 finishes, including seven top-five's in 16 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "We've had a lot of success at Bristol, but not last year. We've really hit a road block there for some reason, but things are different with the track changes last fall and the fact that we'll be working with a new car this time around, as well. We have to get back on our horse a little bit and this is a good way to do it."

LOOKING BACK: Busch delighted the huge crowd with several spectacular moves, including diving below the yellow line on one restart to grab the lead. But he "kept getting too loose" at the end of the long runs and ended the day in fourth place. "It was fast, it was really fast yesterday, just wasn't as fast as it needed to be today on the long runs," said Busch. "We had by far the best car in practice -- I don't know where that went. The worst Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) car ended up winning the race (Matt Kenseth). It's funny how this game works."

ETC.: Busch said his most memorable experience at Bristol is "August 2010 -- being able to do the sweep. We won the truck race on Wednesday night, backed it up with the Nationwide race Friday and took home the Cup race on Saturday night."

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained five spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: One win and eight top-10 finishes, including six top-five's in 28 races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart admits Bristol has been "a track where we have struggled." Yet he quickly adds, "It's a track I definitely like. To me that's just motivation. It gives us the ambition to be successful. We do have the new car there and that's a question mark that is the same for everybody. Hopefully we are the ones able to take advantage of it."

LOOKING BACK: Stewart spent the first part of the race going in the wrong direction after starting ninth. But the crew kept making changes to the car and Stewart was able to rally in the final 70 laps to finish 11th at Las Vegas. "It's pretty impressive to end up where we did knowing how we started the race," said Stewart. "Steve Addington (crew chief) and the crew did a really good job all race long because there wasn't one routine stop the whole day. Everybody had to do their part today to salvage what we got out of it."

ETC.: Stewart feels it is way too early in the season to worry about the points. "It's so early right now; there are so many things that can happen that I think it's way too early to be thinking about that," said Stewart. "I think if you are a team that is worrying about it right now, you were probably worried about just making it to begin with. I think the teams that have confidence that they are going to be in or should be in the chase probably aren't that concerned about it at this point."

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 20 points out of the top 10. Gained 11 spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: One win and 12 top-10 finishes, including nine top-five's in 24 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick expects another exciting race this weekend at Bristol. "I think any time you go to a short track no matter if the groove is top, bottom or middle, you're going to have cars beating and banging on each other. I think the way the groove moved up the track (at Bristol last August), everyone is a little more aggressive in trying to slide themselves into a spot, so you have to be aggressive to take the opportunity to pass somebody."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick had an up-and-down day at Las Vegas. He ran in the top 10 early before running into handling problems and dropping outside the top. But he rallied in the final 40 laps to finish ninth. "The Rheem guys battled hard today, and we were able to pick up our first top-10 finish of the season," said Harvick. "Our car was fast, but we had a few issues with the handling during the race. The 29 team kept at it all day, making changes that allowed us to leave here with a good finish."

ETC.: Even though the 2013 season is only three races old, Harvick said his team is already "in a routine and searching to find what makes your car the fastest on the track. That's really what we're focused on is being productive and finding what works on the car and what doesn't. We're still learning the (new) car. We've been to three different tracks so far. Bristol will be a fourth and California (on March 24) will be a fifth. You'll have a lot of different styles of track that you'll be able to compile some good notes to use throughout the rest of the year."

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 22 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished sixth in the spring race in 2012 for his 15th top-10 finish in 38 starts. His one win came in the spring race of 2008.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said a driver "definitely has to be aggressive" at Bristol. "I think the fans like to see drivers beating and banging on each other," added Burton. "At the same time, they like to see side-by-side racing. We gave them side-by-side racing and now they want to see us hit each other. You aren't going to make everybody happy all the time. There are not as many wrecks as there used to be (at Bristol), but the actual racing is better."

LOOKING BACK: An ill-timed caution flag put Burton two laps down midway through the race and he spent the rest of the afternoon trying to battle back. "This (26th) wasn't the result the Caterpillar Chevrolet team was expecting this weekend," said Burton. "We had a successful test session on Thursday and made strong gains in practice on Saturday. I felt good about our chances this morning, but the handling got away from us. We'll take the car back to North Carolina and see what went wrong."

ETC.: NASCAR fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 last week for criticizing the new Gen-6 car. Burton felt it was "a little bit of an overreaction on NASCAR's part. We can't lose the ability to talk openly," added Burton. "At the same time, we have to be cognizant of what we're trying to do. It's a fine line. It (the fine) went over the line a little bit with the penalty, but I do understand why they did it."

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 22 points out of the top 10. Gained seven spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Has two top-seven finishes in the last three races and four top-eight finishes in the last six events.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray is another who "always looks forward to racing at Bristol. This is a track where things can happen real fast, but I have been pretty fortunate to have some good runs there. I am really looking forward to an exciting weekend in Bristol."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray had to start at the rear of the field after changing engines Sunday morning. But it didn't take him long to march his way inside the top 10 and he was able to lead two laps before making his first pit stop. "The McDonald's team did a great job today," said McMurray. "The No. 1 Chevrolet SS was loose all day, but we were able to gain track position and stay competitive for the whole race." McMurray ended the day in 13th place.

ETC.: McMurray said life is a lot different around his house since his daughter, Hazel, was born last month. "Our first child was a little boy," said McMurray. "I have compared notes with other dads that have had a boy then a girl. It is a different experience. Hazel and Christian are doing very well."

56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 24 points out of the top 10. Gained 12 spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished third in the spring race a year ago. Has two top-three finishes in the last three events.

LOOKING AHEAD: Truex can't wait to get to Bristol. "All of the Michael Waltrip (Racing) cars ran well at Bristol last year so our whole shop is looking forward to this weekend," said Truex. "Hopefully one of us will get to victory lane this time around." Last year, the MWR cars ran third, fourth and fifth in the spring race.

LOOKING BACK: Truex was all smiles after finishing eighth at Las Vegas. "It's great to finish a race," said Truex. "We ran competitively in the top 10 and we finished in the top 10. The NAPA Auto Parts Toyota ran a little too loose on long green-flag runs. So, we need to figure out how to get our Toyota to hang on better. But, like I said, after two straight weeks of running well, but not finishing -- it's a relief to get a top 10 in the books."

ETC.: Truex feels "the biggest difference between the Gen-6 car and the Gen-5 car is the weight and speed. The Gen-6 has more downforce, more left-side weight, less right-side weight and it's much faster. It makes more grip so it is more fun to drive. I think the cool thing about the new car is it challenges you to drive it hard."

42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 25 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished eighth in the spring race a year ago for his third top-10 finish in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya has high hopes for this weekend. "The Target team ran really well at Bristol last year," said Montoya. "Actually both of our cars ran well at Bristol last year so it should be a good weekend for us. Our cars have been fast (this year). We're just trying to find the right balance on the handling and it's getting there. We've made a lot of gains since last year and we need to keep that momentum going."

LOOKING BACK: Like his teammate Jamie McMurray, Montoya had to start at the back of the field after changing engines Sunday morning. But Montoya didn't have as good a car at McMurray and spent most of the race just trying to stay on the lead lap. "It was tough out there today," said Montoya, after finishing 19th. "It was not easy to pass and, with the long green-flag runs, it was difficult to get track position. We were able to fight back in the end and get back on the lead lap, but didn't have enough to get to the front."

ETC.: When asked if the last two seasons have been humbling, Montoya replied, "It is not humbling; it sucks. It's not about humbling. I've won at everything I've been in, and I came to NASCAR and I've been good. I know I can do it. To run where we've run, it hasn't been fun. It hasn't been fun for Chip (Ganassi, team owner) or Jamie (McMurray) or myself, or the crew chiefs, or the organization or Target. We know we have the right tools to make it work, and I think this year we've done enough over the winter that is going to put us in a better situation."

10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE SHE STANDS: 30th, 35 points out of the top 10. Lost eight spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: Finished 29th in her lone Sprint Cup start. Finished ninth in the August Nationwide Series race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick said she really "liked Bristol since the first time" she saw the track. "For me, I respond to the banking, which translates to grip and it's definitely there," adds Patrick. "We were having a decent run in the Cup car (last year), we were lead lap and top 20 after 440 laps and unfortunately were taken out, but I think all those events lead us to (having) more potential the next time around with a better baseline setup."

LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long afternoon for Patrick as she finished 33rd, six laps back of winner Matt Kenseth. "It was a real tough day, no doubt," said Patrick. "We knew we were going to have tough days, but this is not the kind of tough day we thought about. I was extremely loose the whole time. I felt like I was about to spin out on the front straight. We just have to figure out how to make it better and work our butts off to make sure that we never have this day again."

ETC.: Patrick said her poor run at Las Vegas "are the days you earn your money, not the days like Daytona, where you run up in the top five all day. Those days are great. These are the days that you have to be strong and you have to work through it and not let it drag you down."

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 31st, 38 points out of the top 10. Lost 11 spots last week.

BRISTOL RECORD: 12 top-10 finishes in 22 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman "really enjoys racing at Bristol. I enjoy the re-configuration of the track. I hope we'll have a tire there this weekend that will allow us to use all three or four lanes of the track. It's just a great race track and a great short track. I love the fact that it's concrete and doesn't seem like it changes a whole lot. Once you get a car right, it's typically right for 500 laps, which is difficult to get on some of the race tracks. Honestly, there's no place like Bristol."

LOOKING BACK: Newman suffered engine failure late in the Las Vegas race and finished 38th. Newman was quick to blame himself for the blown engine. "I missed a shift," said Newman. "I missed a shift because of the restart, but that's my responsibility, not those guys in front of me. It's entirely on me. I could point fingers at the final restart, but it was still my fault."

ETC.: Newman feels "patience" is really important at Bristol "because it can be a track that really challenges your mentality. There, more so than most race tracks, 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. Bristol is different every time you come there. It can be a lot of green-flag runs and a lot of single-file racing, or it can be crazy and it can get randomly crazier."