The High Line – Cup Series – Food City 500 – Bristol Motor Speedway – March 17, 2024


For the first time since 2020 the NASCAR’s Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring on pavement. As you may or may not know, the last three season’s Bristol has featured a dirt race in the Spring. While these races were entertaining, it’s nice to get back to one of NASCAR’s more famed tracks under “normal” conditions. Bristol is a half-mile short track that promises for excitement at every turn if you’re a racing fan, and even in some cases if you’re not. The drivers will turn 500 laps in what is one of the loudest venues in all of motorsports.


As you may imagine, with this race being 500 laps track position and more specifically dominator points are paramount in this setting. Over the past three season’s I looked back to see where the lap-leaders stacked up, in this case I looked to the Fall race which was run on the concrete. In 2023, Christopher Bell, last weeks winner at Phoenix, led 187 laps from the pole while Denny Hamlin led 142 laps en route to a win from the second position. The year before that, Aric Almirola led 36 laps from the pole before his steering failed him and he was knocked out of the race. In that instance Christ Buescher won the race from the 20th starting position while leading 169 laps. Christopher Bell (started 8th) led 143 laps and Brad Keselowski (10th) led 109. In 2021 Kyle Larson started fifth and won while leading 175 laps with Chase Elliott finishing 25th but he led 129 laps from the fourth starting position. In this case the pole sitter led zero laps while the second-position starter led 65. Basically what this boils down to is we can expect to see two to three drivers lead the majority of laps but where those drivers start could vary. Track history along with qualifying will play an important role this week, more so than some others.

Drivers to Target

Kyle Busch ($10,200), Starting 14th

Busch is the class of the field at this track no matter what he’s driving or where he’s starting. When looking at Busch’s history on the pavement here it’s more than impressive. In the Cup series Busch has eight wins and 14 top-fives in 34 starts. Some of his laps-led marks are staggering including 415 in the Fall of 2008, 378 in the Spring of 2009, 285 in the Fall of 2010, 153 in the Spring of 2011, 119 in the Fall of 2015, 256 in the Fall of 2016, 156 in the Fall of 2017, 117 in the Spring of 2018, 100 in the Spring of 2020, and 159 in the Fall of 2020. He’s won here nine times in the XFINITY Series and five times in the Truck Series. Despite a sub-par effort here last season, Busch was happy with his car and noted that there wasn’t anything worth changing. His Crew Chief Randall Burnett stated that they’re not looking to make any changes between last years car and the one they plan to bring to the track Sunday. KB has been fast all season and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the fifth winner this season in five Cup races.

Denny Hamlin ($11,200), Starting 3rd

Denny Hamlin wins at Bristol as reigning NASCAR champion Joey Logano eliminated from playoffs

Three-time Bristol winner Denny Hamlin has proven that he can get around this place with the best of them despite having some poor finishes here over his career. With that aside, Hamlin won the race here last Fall in a dominating effort leading 142 laps from the front row (he started second) and dating back to the Fall of 2021 (three races) Hamlin has finished in the top-10 three straight times, including a ninth-place finish in the Fall of 2021 which saw him lead 65 laps. Denny’s best finish this season is 8th at Las Vegas but he’s been fast all season, including bringing a great car to Phoenix last week in a race that he led 68 laps.

Christopher Bell ($11,000), Starting 12th

Bell comes into this race with a ton of momentum after having a dominant run last week in a race that he won by over five seconds, the highest-mark in the Gen7 era. Last Fall Bell started here on the pole and proceeded to lead 187 laps en route to a third-place finish. The Fall prior to that Bell led 143 laps from the 8th-spot and finished fourth, Despite not having a win to boast here in the Cup Series over five races, it’s clear that Bell has figured out how to navigate around Bristol regardless of where he starts.

Chris Buescher ($9,800), Starting 34th

Buescher Snaps Winless Streak In Attrition Filled Bristol Night Race - SPEED SPORT

Speaking of momentum, Buescher drove his car to a second-place finish last week at Phoenix after starting 14th. Of late Buescher has shown the ability to make up positions at Bristol, notably of the last two Fall races in which he started 20th on both occassions. Buescher won the 2022 race while leading 169 laps and he backed that up last Fall with a fourth-place finish. If you look at his history here over the years it’s not good, at all, but over the past two season’s as he’s improved as a driver he’s gotten much better. Some would say “it’s just two races” but when you look at the data from what he’s put on the track overall over the past two season’s, the improvement’s are staggering. The place differential available here makes Buescher a more-than-solid play.

Brad Keselowski ($9,200), Starting 17th

Buescher’s teammate, Keselowski is struggling as far as the win column goes. 102 races have gone by without a win for BK but we’re going to a track in which Keselowski has won three times at. With those three wins, BK has six top-five finishes and has led 82 or more laps on six occasions. The last time the Cup cars ran on the concrete at Bristol BK finished eighth The 6 team is close and coming off some good momentum with a fourth-place finish last week.

Kyle Larson ($11,500), Starting 10th

Larson has run 15 races in the Cup Series at Bristol and he’s finished in the top-10 90 percent of the time. That’s a crazy stat at a track like Bristol. Larson has won here just once but he’s finished second three times and led 175 or more laps three times. Maybe the most impressive data point came last season when after a bad qualifying run, Larson started 36th in the field. He managed to finish that race second and lead 20 laps. Obviously you’ll have to pay for him and he’s the odds-on favorite to win but it’s hard to argue with the consistency.

Michael McDowell ($6,800), Starting 7th

When you have the crew chief of Joey Logano, Paul Wolfe say that they’re looking to the 34 team for reference points and strategy, you have my attention. Michael McDowell, the driver of the 34 car for Front Row Motorsports has positioned himself well all of the sudden at the short tracks on the schedule. Last week McDowell drove his car to an eighth finish at Phoenix and has finished 11th or better in three of his last four Bristol races, including sixth last Fall.

Noah Gragson ($6,700), Starting 22nd

When you look at Gragson so far in the Cup Series it’s been a rollercoaster to say the least. From losing his ride due to some controversial social media activity to being suspended for the end of last season and then landing a big-time ride with a big-time company at Stewart-Haas Racing in the 10 car there’s been a lot to digest here. When you look at his season so far, there’s a lot to be optimistic about, notably two top-10 finishes, a ninth-place finish at Daytona and a sixth-place finish at Las Vegas, his home track, and also a 12th-place run last week at Phoenix. In between all of this was a 36th-place disaster at Atlanta and also a roof rail penalty which docked him 35 points in the standings. So there’s a lot going on here. However, looking at Gragson at Bristol, there’s a lot to be excited about. In the XFINITY Series, Gragson logged two wins and four top-10’s in six starts there with an average finish of 8th. Gragson fits the characteristics of a driver that would succeed here at Bristol. He’s aggressive and he’s comfortable running in all area’s of the track. We know that at Bristol, the bottom of the track is typically run early and often. The difference makers typically make their way up towards the middle to top of the race track, after about 100 laps or so. If Gragson has the car and the gumption to run this strategy it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a strong finish from Noah.

Ryan Blaney ($10,500), Starting on the Pole

Despite never winning at Bristol, Blaney has been one of the strongest drivers in the field at this track. His last two races here have not been good, however of all the tracks that Blaney has run, Bristol is the track that he’s led the second-most laps at of any track with 493. Within that, the defending Cup Champion has led 100 or more laps here three separate times; both races of 2018 and the Spring race of 2019. Expect Blaney to jump the lead and dominated early.

Chase Elliott ($8,300), Starting 5th

I’m just not gonna quit Elliott because at the end of the day he’s shown that he can dominate and win anywhere. Chase will return to a track that he’s had a lot of good performances at despite never winning here in the Cup Series in a points race (he’s won the All Star race here. Elliott has finished seventh and second here in his last two races and overall has had some dominating performances here leading 88 or more laps here on three occasions.

Also Consider

William Byron ($10,700), Starting 8th

Ross Chastain ($8,500), Starting 36th

Carson Hocevar ($5,800), Starting 35th

Josh Berry ($6,500), Starting 2nd

Erik Jones ($7,000), Starting 15th