Pre-race favorites have to come from Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
Those teams have won all seven races to date this season. JGR’s Kyle Busch, always the favorite at Bristol with seven Cup Series wins and a track-record 21 wins overall in NASCAR’s three national series, already has two victories this season.
Busch, the defending race champion, had a disappointing 17th-place qualifying effort, but that’s no problem for the Las Vegas native. His No. 18 Toyota has come from much farther back in the field before to win at Bristol.
Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin is the series’ most recent winner, adding his victory at Texas to his win in the Daytona 500 to open the season. Hamlin also is a former winner at Bristol.
Busch and Hamlin are joined at Gibbs by 2017 NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones, both of whom have runner-up finishes at BMS.
No driver has more motivation than Jones, driving a No. 20 Toyota with a paint scheme specially designed by kids from Niswonger Children’s Hospital and television reality star Richard Rawlings. If Jones wins the Food City 500, a $1 million donation will go to the Children’s Miracle Network.
On the other side is Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. He already has two wins this year, including at Martinsville’s short track, in the No. 2 Ford. Like the Gibbs team, some of Keselowski’s toughest competition comes from within.
Defending series champion Joey Logano was the fastest in Saturday’s final practice in his No. 22 Ford. Ryan Blaney is also showing speed in the No. 12 Ford. Blaney looked to have the car to beat during Friday’s Bush’s Beans Pole Day, but he got too aggressive in the final qualifying session and ended up third.
Keselowski and Logano are both two-time winners at Bristol and Blaney is a former winner in the Xfinity Series.
WILL THE STREAK END?
Could this be the weekend seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson breaks a nearly two-year winless streak? Johnson has been stuck on 83 victories and tied with boyhood hero Cale Yarborough for sixth on the NASCAR’s all-time win list for a while now.
Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was fast the first part of the weekend. He qualified a solid 10th and was second in the final practice session.
Chase Elliott, driving the No. 9 Hendrick Chevrolet, starts on the pole after breaking the track record with his 131.713 mph run in Friday qualifying. He has plenty of experience at Bristol from the K&N Series to the Cup level.
William Byron in the No. 24 Hendrick Chevrolet could also be a contender. Working with Chad Knaus, the crew chief for all seven of Johnson’s championships, Byron qualified on the outside pole.
HARVICK, LARSON AND KURT
While the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords haven’t had the success of Team Penske and the new Mustangs, two-time Bristol winner Kevin Harvick has to be among the favorites. He was fourth in the final practice Saturday.
Kyle Larson was runner- up in the past two Bristol Cup races. The high banks and the fact that drivers veer to the top of the track on a slick racetrack suit his driving style, which was formed on the dirt tracks.
Kurt Busch is the most recent Bristol winner, then in the Stewart-Haas No. 41 Ford. Now in the No. 1 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet as a teammate to Larson, he had a disappointing qualifying effort but should be fast Sunday.
DARK HORSE PICKS
Austin Dillon in the famed No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford have traditionally performed well on Bristol’s high banks.
Stenhouse has a pair of runner-up finishes in past Food City 500s.
Dillon is a winner in the Xfinity Series at BMS and matched his car number with the third-fastest effort in Saturday’s final practice.
Food City 500 lineup
After Friday’s qualifying; race Sunday
At Bristol Motor Speedway
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 131.713 mph.
2. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 131.371.
3. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 131.182.
4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 131.057.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 130.700.
6. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 130.602.
7. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 130.229.
8. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 130.168.
9. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 130.026.
10. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 129.824.
11. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 129.640.
12. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 129.622.
13. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 130.477.
14. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 130.477.
15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 130.274.
16. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 130.229.
17. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.824.
18. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 129.789.
19. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 129.657.
20. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 129.570.
21. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 129.351.
22. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 129.317.
23. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 129.177.
24. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 128.339.
25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 128.658.
26. (8) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 128.554.
27. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 128.305.
28. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 128.288.
29. (36) Matt Tifft, Ford, 128.031.
30. (47) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 127.258.
31. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 126.603.
32. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 125.675.
33. (51) Gray Gaulding, Ford, 125.576.
34. (52) Bayley Currey, Chevrolet, 123.833.
35. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 121.898.
36. (77) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 115.202.
37. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0.000.