- Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 23:24
- Published on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 23:24
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Four races into the 2012 season and each manufacturer can boast of a win.
Matt Kenseth drove his Roush Fenway Racing Ford to victory lane at Daytona. The following week it was off to Phoenix, and Denny Hamlin drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the win.
Tony Stewart, notorious for getting off to a slow start each season, notched his earliest-ever win in week three at Las Vegas, wheeling his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to victory lane. Last Sunday it was Dodge’s turn, as Brad Keselowski drove the Blue Deuce, Penske Racing Dodge to the win.
This was Keselowski’s second straight win at Bristol. He won the late season race at Bristol last season. It was career Cup win number 5 for the 28 year-old from Rochester Hills Michigan, and his second win in five starts at the high banked half
In the post race press conference Keselowski said, “What can I say? I love Bristol and Bristol loves me. It’s a great track that really demands 100 percent out of a driver and a team.
“Today my team certainly delivered. Great pit stops. I told somebody before the race, this is the best race car I’ve ever had in Cup. It showed off today. Hopefully, we can have more cars like this and we’ll win more races and continue to move the needle forward. I said in pre-season this year that the goal here at Penske Racing was to win the Sprint Cup Championship. That’s where we’re all pushing. One win certainly doesn’t achieve that, but it’s great first step.”
Not every Food City 500 winner makes the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but a victory in Bristol Motor Speedway’s spring race certainly improves a driver’s chances. Each winner since 2007 - Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson - has qualified for the post season. Two Food City 500 winners during the Chase era have become champions: Jimmie Johnson in 2010 and Kurt Busch in 2004.
Jeff Gordon is the last competitor to win Bristol’s spring race and the championship in back-to-back seasons. The four-time Sprint Cup title holder accomplished that feat in 1997-98.
Gordon and the Busch brothers are Bristol’s active win leaders with five apiece. None is likely to challenge Bristol’s all-time resident of Victory Lane, Darrell Waltrip, who won 12 times, including seven in a row between 1981-84 behind the wheel of Hall of Famer Junior Johnson’s Chevrolets.
Defending Food City 500 winner Kyle Busch has won the race three times, including the 2007 race which was the debut of NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow.
To say it’s been awhile since Greg Biffle has been atop the points standings is a bit of an understatement. It has been over six years. But with three straight third place finishes, his most recent was a week ago in Las Vegas, Biffle went into Bristol with a 10-point lead over Kevin Harvick in second place. Biffle served notice that he is serious about being the front runner by capturing the pole for last Sunday’s Food City 500. The 42 year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver last led the points chase following the June 2005 race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.
Biffle, with new crew chief Matt Puccia, opened the year vowing to put a disappointing 2011 season where he missed the Chase, and failed to win a race for just the second time in his nine years on the Sprint Cup Circuit, in the rear view mirror.
“Just plain and simple, Matt Puccia is the reason why we’re running, and competing, and finishing the way we are,” said Biffle. “This team needed leadership. He was willing to step up and take the task on. He’s done a fantastic job so far.”
Biffle finished eighth in last year’s Food City 500 and, with a best finish of third, the Vancouver, Washington driver went into Bristol last Sunday, looking for his first win at Thunder Valley. His 13th place finish Sunday was good enough for Biffle to maintain the points’ lead. He goes to Auto Club Speedway Sunday with a 9-point lead over Kevin Harvick.