The green flag for the Jeff Byrd 500 is just a couple of hours away, and as we do every race day, SB Nation Atlanta takes a look at some of the storylines to watch in today's 500-lapper - which can be seen on FOX 5 Atlanta and other FOX affiliates at 1 p.m., preceded by the NASCAR on FOX Pre-Race show at 2:30.
In addition to Carl Edwards' attempt to continue his hot streak and the threat of rain, some of the potential headlines for the day include:
Tires, tires, tires: Goodyear and NASCAR made a pro-active decision Friday, opting to ship right-side tires matching those used at Bristol last August once it became clear that the new tire compound was wearing too quickly and not laying rubber on the track. While the replacement tires should be durable enough to stand a full fuel run, there are concerns that they may be at the completely opposite end of the spectrum and lay down too much rubber, creating slick racing conditions.
The possibility of a first-time winner: Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan, and Kurt Busch all scored their first-career Cup victories at Bristol. The drivers starting in the third, fourth, and fifth positions today have never won a race, but could be in prime position to do so. Fifth-placed David Ragan has two third-place finishes, at Richmond in 2007 and Michigan in 2008. Paul Menard, starting fourth, finished second at Talladega in October 2008. Regan Smith, who has a career-best starting position of third, scored his best-career Sprint Cup finish in this year's Daytona 500 when he came home seventh.
Jeff Gordon's pursuit of DW: While a sixth Bristol win would only get him halfway to Darrell Waltrip's track record of 12, Gordon is on the verge of tying Waltrip for fourth on the all-time wins list. Waltrip has 84 victories - and depending on who you ask, so does Bobby Allison. Gordon won for the 83rd time last month at Phoenix. Once Jeff ties and passes Allison, who actually has 85 victories, he will need 20 more in order to pass David Pearson for second. Once a foregone conclusion that he would end his career second only to Richard Petty, at his current pace it is likely Gordon will fall well short of the Silver Fox's 105 wins.
Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch try to stay on top: The point lead has changed hands after each of the first three races this season. Series champion Jimmie Johnson crashed in the Daytona 500, giving Carl Edwards the point lead after his second-place finish (Daytona winner Trevor Bayne is inelligible for Sprint Cup points). Carl tangled with Kyle Busch a week later at Phoenix, and Busch grabbed the point lead with a second-place finish of his own. Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Kyle blew an engine, allowing brother Kurt and Tony Stewart - who finished second - to take joint custody of the point lead. Both are previous winners at Bristol - Stewart in August 2001 and Busch on five different occasions including his first Cup win in 2002 - and another trip to the track's hallowed victory lane would be the easiest way to ensure one of them maintains the lead leaving Thunder Valley.
Hamlin looks to exorcise his Bristol demons: Denny Hamlin has been a win waiting to happen at Bristol since March 2007. On that day, he led on the race's next-to-last restart, but his car stumbled on fuel, allowing Kyle Busch - then with Hendrick Motorsports - to sweep by and grab the win. Hamlin had the exact same fate befall him one year later, this time forcing him to watch as Jeff Burton led a Richard Childress Racing sweep of the top-three positions. He finished second in March 2009 and fifth that August, both in races won by Busch, now his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Last year's results were disappointing, with a cut tire and subsequent meeting with the wall leaving him 19th in March, while he was 34th in August, 27 laps off the pace following a trip to the garage.
SB Nation Atlanta will be following these stories and the rest of the action today, so stay tuned!