Completed in time for last year's night race, the banking near the outside wall at Bristol Motor Speedway was ground down about 2 degrees in an effort to eliminate the top groove and thus to restore some of the old-style of physical racing to Thunder Valley. While running the high line eventually proved to be effective still, the altered surface did lead to some of the desired retro Bristol beating and banging. It wasn't a complete game-changer for BMS, but the track did regain some of its treacherous roots and is more difficult to navigate than in years past.
Practice sessions: Friday, March 15, at 12 p.m. ET; Saturday, March 16, at 9 a.m. ET, 12 p.m. ET
Qualifying: Friday, March 15, at 3:40 p.m. ET
Race: Sunday, March 17, at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Length: 0.533 miles
Turns 1-4: 24-30 degrees
Straightaways: 4-9 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Since 2009 at Bristol, Johnson leads all drivers with five top-fives and seven top-10s. After starting the season with a win in the Daytona 500, Johnson produced a runner-up at Phoenix International Speedway. Last week, he left Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a sixth-place finish and matched a race-high average running position of third. Over the last few years, Bristol has proven to be a safe venue for Johnson, and one of his best performance-wise.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Ford | Penske Championship Racing
The only poor finish for Keselowski during the second half of last year's championship season was a 30th-place result in the famed Bristol night race. Prior to that, The Blue Deuce got to the victory lane two straight times at the World's Fastest Half Mile. Keselowski recorded an average running position of third in each of those wins while spending all but two of the combined 1,000 laps running in the top 15. He's finished inside the top five in all three races of 2013.
Matt Kenseth | No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Junior: not the best choice
A dustup with Tony Stewart in last year's night race spoiled a very promising run and ended a streak of six consecutive top-10s at Bristol for Kenseth. He's among the most consistent performers at Bristol and has immediately clicked with his new team.
After Kenseth had an engine failure that might have cost him the Daytona 500, he scored a seventh-place finish at Phoenix and won last week at Las Vegas. Kenseth should continue to roll this week at BMS.
Paul Menard | No. 27 Menards/Sylvania Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Over the last two years, Menard has been a solid middle-tier driver at Bristol. He landed a career-best fifth in the 2011 spring race and finished 10th in each start last year with average running positions of 12th and 14th. Menard finished mid-pack at Daytona and Phoenix but finished 10th at Las Vegas with an average running position of 12th and spent 94 percent of the laps in the top 15.
Joey Logano | No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford | Penske Championship Racing
After four solid runs at Bristol, Logano broke out in last year's Bristol night race. He led a race-high 139 laps early on and finished a career-best eighth. In eight career starts at BMS, Logano has started inside the top 10 six times. Logano is coming off a season-high 12th-place finish at Las Vegas and is seeking his first top-10 of the year.
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Busch won four Bristol races in a span of five starts but has just one top-10 in the last three. He leads all drivers with 1,308 laps led at BMS over the last 10 starts but only led in one of those four circuits during the winless streak. Rowdy stumbled in his first two starts but looked sharped at Las Vegas with a fourth-place finish. Busch is in danger of being a little overrated at BMS but cannot be counted out.
Jamie McMurray | No. 1 CESSNA Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Since 2010, McMurray has two top-fives and four top-10s in half a dozen starts at Bristol. Aside from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is one of the few tracks where the ever inconsistent Jamie Mac is truly worth considering. At the very least McMurray should be monitored in the practice sessions as a potential dark horse.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
While not always earning a finish that truly reflected his run that day, Truex has held an average running position of 13th or better in seven straight Bristol races. More recently, he finished as the runner-up in the 2011 night race and third in last year's spring event. Truex finished eighth at Las Vegas and was one of five drivers to spend all 267 laps running in the top 15.
Brian Vickers | No. 55 RK Motors Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
A year ago, Vickers was very impressive as a part-time driver for MWR. He ran eight races in place of Mark Martin, collecting three top-fives and five top-10s. At Bristol, Vickers finished fifth in the spring after leading 125 laps. Under the lights, he finished fourth despite qualifying outside the top 20 for the second time. Vickers never ran well at Bristol in 14 prior career starts but has been a perfect fit in limited duty with MWR.
Temper your expectations
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Unless Earnhardt unloads with great practice speeds this week, you might want to pass on him at Bristol for a more favorable matchup. He's been solid, but not spectacular, at the site since coming over to HMS with an average finish of 12th in 10 starts. This is a good track, not a great one, for Earnhardt, so better values can be had elsewhere.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Over the last five races, Stewart owns just one top-15 finish at Bristol. In 28 career starts at BMS, Stewart has notched just eight top-10 finishes. Smoke ran well at Phoenix during an eighth-place finish but lucked into an 11th-place result last week at Las Vegas after struggling for much of the day.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.