Weekend Preview: Food City 500

by Blake Smith

There was no need for Matt Kenseth to make a wish when he blew out his birthday candles on Sunday, he had already won the Kobalt Tools 400. Kenseth became only the third driver to win on his birthday, doing this in only his third start for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth fought off a hard charge from Kasey Kahne to capture last Sunday’s victory.

The teams left Sin City last week to make the trek back east to good ole’ Rocky Top. There is nothing mountain-like about this weekend’s venue though, but rather a valley…Thunder Valley! If you survive 500 laps at Bristol and come home with a trophy, you will feel like you have been mountain climbing all day at this physically and mentally grueling race track.

The first NASCAR Cup Series race was held at the half-mile speedway in 1961, since then there have been two races at the track each season. This weekend’s event will mark the 105th race at the track. Forty drivers have won at Bristol. Owensboro’s own Darrell Waltrip has the most wins at the track with 12. Terry Labonte leads all active drivers with 57 starts at the Tennessee track, Sunday will mark “Texas Terry’s” 58th career start in Bristol.

Forty-four drivers are entered for this weekend’s Food City 500. Scott Riggs will have to qualify his #44 Ford on time to make Sunday’s race.  AJ Allmendinger makes a return to NASCAR this weekend behind the wheel of James Finch’s #51 Chevrolet. Allmendinger drove a partial schedule for the team in the latter part of last season. He will be one of three drivers sharing the ride in 2013.

Brad Keselowski and the #2 team will be bringing a new chassis to the track this weekend while last week’s runner-up, Kasey Kahne will be bringing the same car he finished 19th with at Phoenix. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team selected the car they finished 11th with at Dover last season to bring to Bristol.

There is a chance of showers this weekend both Saturday and Sunday in Thunder Valley with a high in the lower 50’s. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate but if she rears her ugly head, the AIR TITAN track drying system is scheduled to be on hand for this weekend’s events. If you are going down to Bristol this weekend, get to the track a little early on Sunday for a pre-race concert performed by the Charlie Daniels Band!

Mark Martin, who is driving a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing will be stepping out from behind the wheel of the #55 machine this weekend. Stepping in is Brian Vickers who is driving the same car that he drove to two top-5 finishes at Bristol last season. Vickers has spent the off-season and first few weeks of this season testing this machine for MWR. It may be a long shot, but my pick for this weekend’s victory is the Rodney Childers’ led #55 team driven by Brian Vickers.

In this week’s NASCAR news, Denny Hamlin announced that he will not follow up with the appeal process following his $25K fine for comments made after the Phoenix race. Hamlin still has no intent to pay the fine. NASCAR advised in this case, they will refer to Section 12-3 of the NASCAR rule book which allows NASCAR to collect fines from the driver’s points fund and/or race purse winnings.

WBKR and WBKR.com will have coverage of Sunday’s Food City 500 beginning at 11:00 am. Tune in to find out who will be victorious in eastern Tennessee. For a follow-up of all of the weekend’s activity, tune into my friend Eli Gold on Tuesday night! You'll hear that at 6:00 pm on WBKR and wbkr.com