Veterans, young guns and up and coming stars get set to wage battle this weekend at The Last Great Colosseum

Bristol Motor SpeedwayExpect an intense weekend filled with sparks, drama, tension, and more as NASCAR returns to the hills of East Tennessee and specifically, Bristol Motor Speedway.

The top drivers of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will take to the high banks of Bristol, also known as The Last Great Colosseum for the Food City 500 beginning at 2:00 PM on Sunday afternoon.

While the pre-season prediction by NASCAR pundits called for a “Young Guns” takeover, it has been the opposite.  The veterans have made it known that they aren’t ready to give up the track or position to the upstarts.

Stewart-Haas driver Kevin Harvick has flexed his muscles winning three consecutive races at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix, while defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. captured a win at California and Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer, broke a 190 race-winless streak taking the win at historic Martinsville.

It can be said that the veterans have had a “stranglehold” so to speak, on the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will aim for a repeat performance at Bristol while Kyle Busch, who swept all three Bristol races in the August visit, will look to tighten his grip on the high banks.

“This is one of our most entertaining tracks on the circuit,” Johnson said. “I show up with great optimism. I feel like we don’t necessarily qualify great there, but I always raced much better.”

Others to consider and not cross off the list past winners Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Kyle’s brother, Kurt Busch, all experienced veterans in their own right.

But it’s the Young Guns who are looking at rattling the cage and making some noise on the high banks of The Last Great Colosseum. Drivers including Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon are among some of the younger-generation NASCAR drivers looking for breakout wins that will establish them among the Bristol elite in the same mention as former drivers and champions, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and the late Alan Kulwicki.

The Food City 500 will feature 125-lap sprints in both of the first two stages and a 250-lap clash in the final stage to determine the race winner.

Saturday action at Bristol Motor Speedway

A Saturday afternoon doubleheader will feature the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 beginning at 1:00 PM to be followed by the NASCAR K&N Pro Series hitting the high banks around 4:00 PM on Saturday afternoon.

The big focus will be on the $100,000 Dash-4-Cash bonus as it will be up for grabs in the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. The bonus is available to the four highest finishing XFINITY Series regulars from this weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 300-lap Fitzgerald Glider Kits XFINITY Series race at BMS will feature 85-lap dashes for both of the first two stages and a 130-lap shootout for the final stage.

Erik Jones is the defending winner while Daniel Hemric captured the Dash for Cash bonus at Bristol in the Spring race.

JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier knows what it means to win the Dash for Cash loot.  He took the honors two years ago and the No. 7 Chevy Camaro driver says adding the extra cash incentive just increases the excitement level.

“Obviously, Bristol itself is fun to begin with, it’s one of my favorite racetracks on the schedule, if not my all-time favorite,” Allgaier said. “That’s obviously good for me, but on the flip side of it there are a lot of really good guys that race well at Bristol and it’s going to make it a great race and more exciting for sure.”

But before you count Jones, Hemric, or Allgaier in the top spot before running the race, make sure you include some other hot, up, and coming drivers in the series.

Tyler Reddick, who earned the driver’s seat in the No. 9 Chevy Camaro for JR Motorsports this season, has already made his mark with a big win at Daytona and has experienced success at t Bristol in the NASCAR Truck Series.

While Emporia, VA’s Elliott Sadler leads the points standings, several newcomers have been gaining more looks with their abilities behind the wheel. Christopher Bell has been turning heads with his talent behind the wheel and Cole Custer will also be raising eyebrows and turning heads at Bristol.

Knoxville, TN native Chad Finchum who won the 2016 NASCAR K&N Series race at Bristol, will make his second Xfinity Series start at BMS as the pilot of the No. 40 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

When the book closes on the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the action will heat up the track even more as more up and coming stars with some familiar names and family connections will take to the track for the K&N Pro Series Zombie Auto 150.

Seventeen year old and second-generation driver Harrison Burton won last year’s race and will be out to defend his title but not before having to fight off challenges from Camping World Truck Series regular Noah Gragson and Brandon McReynolds, who is the son of FOX Sports analyst talent and former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds.

Winning Bristol last year was on Burton’s bucket list and he is anxious to do it again this year.

“I grew up attending races at Bristol with my family and I’ve always wanted to win there,” Burton said. “To actually get my first K&N victory at Bristol on that track was definitely fun. I’m ready to try for another win.”

All the events of race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway get underway on Friday beginning with practice and then Bush Beans Pole Day qualifying.

To purchase tickets to the Food City 500, call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com.

By Rod Mullins/ Augusta Free Press


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