NASCAR At Bristol: Thunder Valley Marks First Short-Track Action Of 2012

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 20: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jeff Byrd 500 Presented By Food City at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 20, 2011 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series head to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Kyle Busch won both events last spring, and after a tough start to the 2012 season, he could certainly use another trip to Bristol's victory lane.

Bristol.

That's about all that needs to be said, unless you're clarifying for a non-NASCAR fan that we're not talking about a place in England or Connecticut. No, we're talking about the hallowed ground of eastern Tennessee, right on the Virginia border, the only "Bristol" that really matters: the Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Concrete Colosseum has for years been the most popular stop in major stock car racing. Though the August night race is more popular, any race at the high-banked .533-mile oval is enough to make a race fan's hair stand straight up. I had the pleasure of attending the March 2010 Nationwide Series race at Bristol - courtesy of tickets won on Twitter from Kyle Busch - and I can personally attest to the fact that all the hype the track generates is 100% warranted. If you have the chance to go, take it without a second thought.

This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series head to Thunder Valley for their annual spring fling at BMS. Kyle Busch swept both races there last year, and after a frustrating weekend at home last weekend in Las Vegas, he could certainly use another Bristol trophy. No one has been better on the Cup side at the World's Fastest Half-Mile of late, as Busch has won four of the last six stops at the track, including a season-sweep in 2009. He also won this race in March 2007, the first race with what was then known as the "Car of Tomorrow,' and famously declared "They suck," in victory lane afterwards. His Nationwide stats are equally impressive, and though his three maiden efforts in his self-owned Toyota have not borne the kind of performance he is used to or expects, there is no reason why he can't add yet another victory this weekend.

If anyone is going to stop Busch, it very well could be Kevin Harvick. Though he has just one Sprint Cup triumph at the track (this race in 2005), he traditionaly gets around it very well. He is looking for his sixth Nationwide Series win at the track Saturday. Carl Edwards also has extremely solid stats at BMS and recorded a pair of summer wins in 2007 (the first race on the re-configured banking) and 2008.

Jimmie Johnson, who won the 2010 spring race, has had two tremendous performances since his disastrous Daytona 500 and the subsequent penalties against his Chad Knaus-led team. The National Stock Car Commission upheld the sanctions held down by NASCAR on Tuesday, but team owner Rick Hendrick is making a final appeal to the chief appellate officer. Thus, Knaus and car chief Ron Malec will still be on the pit box this weekend, but they could be racing to try to score a victory before being sent on their six-week vacation from the race track.

Sprint Cup champion and Las Vegas winner Tony Stewart has largely struggled in recent years at Bristol. His results since claiming the August 2001 event there have been less than satisfying, and he has just one top-10 (a second to Johnson two years ago) in his six visits there with Stewart-Haas Racing.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to snap his 132-race winless streak, Sunday's 500-lapper and the Martinsville race in two weeks could be his best opportunity. He traditionally has a knack for getting around Bristol, and swept the weekend in August 2004.

There will be plenty of other drivers to watch this weekend, and you can head to Jayski.com to see the entry lists for both Saturday's Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 and Sunday's Sprint Cup Food City 500.

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