NASCAR rail: Sharpie 500 at Bristol

Dan Beaver, dba Media

SHARPIE 500 AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN

WHEN: TV Start 7 p.m. ET

BROADCAST: ESPN, live on Sirius satellite radio, channel 128

THE LOWDOWN: Most of the drivers in the field cut their teeth on short tracks, but Bristol is almost without equal. Trouble lurks around every corner and it's a dangerous place to come for drivers in desperate need of a good points day. That is particularly true of three drivers who failed to finish at Michigan and plunged three spots down the grid. Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon will be on pins and needles until the checkers wave on Saturday night—and so will their fans.

Last 5 WINNERS:

2007: Carl Edwards

2006: Matt Kenseth

2005: Matt Kenseth

2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

2003: Kurt Busch

LAST WEEK'S WINNER: Carl Edwards

Two weeks ago. Kyle Busch guaranteed himself the top seeding in the Chase by taking his eighth victory of the season, but Carl Edwards served notice at Michigan that he would not be far behind. For the moment it appears that the championship is a two-man horse race with Edwards winning two of the last six races and finishing second twice. Busch has three victories in that span plus another second-place finish. Of course, Jimmie Johnson might have something to say about the outcome as well: he is the only other winner in the past six weeks.

1. Kyle Busch

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 11.7 in six starts

This spring revealed one of the small chinks in Busch's armor. He finished 17th at Bristol and did not look terribly strong in the process, but he swept the top 10 in the two years prior to that and won in 2007.

2. Carl Edwards

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 10.7 in six starts

With two finishes worse than 10th since the start of 2006, Edwards has not been perfect at Bristol. But that didn't matter last fall when he took the checkers in the Sharpie 500. He'll keep the pressure on this week.

3. Jimmie Johnson

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 21.8 in six starts

Johnson will be happy that he's comfortably inside the top 12 this week because Bristol has been less than kind in recent years with a single top-10 in his last six starts. In his 13-race career, he has only two top-fives.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 6.7 in six starts

Another bad call from the pits left Earnhardt on the track on old tires at Michigan, causing him to slap the wall and ultimately lose a lap. Bristol should be better; he has the best three-year average of all drivers there.

5. Jeff Burton

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 10.0 in six starts

You'll hear the phrase "patient aggression" a lot this week and Burton is the embodiment of that trait. He's worked his way to a first and two seconds at Bristol since 2005 by not tearing up his equipment.

6. Tony Stewart

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 15.8 in six starts

Stewart probably has enough of a points cushion to stay in Chase contention, but his results are going to slowly get worse as the season progresses. Last week, he was never in contention for a top-10 finish.

7. Greg Biffle

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 8.0 in six starts

Biffle has yet to win at Bristol, but that doesn't mean he's not strong there. He finished fifth in his first attempt in 2003 and has six top-10s in his last seven starts.

8. Kevin Harvick

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 12.0 in six starts

Harvick did exactly what he needed to at Michigan. He drove a steady race, stayed out of trouble and finished eighth while watching the other drivers on the Chase bubble drop behind him.

9. Jeff Gordon

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 10.8 in six starts

For the first time in nearly two months, Gordon was actually pleased with his car at Michigan but fate had different plans. Bristol smells desperation on a driver like a wild animal senses fear.

10. Matt Kenseth

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 10.8 in six starts

Kenseth has an identical three-year Bristol average to Gordon, but the difference this week is that he finished fifth at Michigan and will come to the track with confidence and momentum.

11. Kasey Kahne

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 15.3 in six starts

Kahne has the ninth-best three-year average at Bristol, but that will come as little consolation since the eight drivers ahead of him are all Chase contenders. Of course, his second there last fall will soothe his fears.

12. Denny Hamlin

Last three years’ average finish at Bristol: 16.6 in five starts

A dejected Hamlin told reporters that this team wasn't good enough to be in Chase contention after blowing an engine at Michigan. He'd better get his head on straight before battling Bristol.

Three-year average finish, short tracks

Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond

Driver    Avg. Finish     Attempts

Tony Stewart    9.56    18

Kyle Busch    10.17    18

Jeff Gordon    11.00    18

Kevin Harvick    11.22    18

Denny Hamlin    11.88    16

Dale Earnhardt Jr.    11.89    18

Jimmie Johnson    13.11    18

Clint Bowyer    13.33    15

Matt Kenseth    14.83    18

Ryan Newman    15.22    18

Jeff Burton    15.28    18

Greg Biffle    15.28    18

Carl Edwards    15.50    18

Mark Martin    15.92    12

Kasey Kahne    17.28    18

Kurt Busch    18.22    18

Bobby Labonte    19.89    18

David Ragan    20.50    10

Terry Labonte    21.00    3

Casey Mears    22.00    18

Juan Montoya    22.22    9

Regan Smith    22.40    5

Elliott Sadler    22.89    18

Scott Riggs    23.72    18

Martin Truex Jr.    24.67    15

Dave Blaney    25.00    18

Jamie McMurray    25.00    18

Travis Kvapil    25.08    12

Reed Sorenson    26.07    15

Tony Raines    28.71    14

David Reutimann    29.11    9

Paul Menard    29.22    9

Joe Nemechek    30.76    17

Sam Hornish Jr.    31.00    4

Brian Vickers    31.22    18

David Gilliland    31.42    12

Michael Waltrip    32.06    18

Robby Gordon    32.89    18

Johnny Sauter    33.11    9

A.J. Allmendinger    34.57    7

Patrick Carpentier    36.00    2

Mike Skinner    39.25    4

Laps in top-10, short tracks

Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond

Last five years

Driver    Top-10 laps    Possible Laps

Jeff Gordon     7,906    12,626

Tony Stewart     7,349    12,626

Dale Earnhardt Jr.    7,331    12,626

Jimmie Johnson     7,048    12,626

Kevin Harvick     6,391    12,626

Kurt Busch     6,283    12,626

Ryan Newman     5,712    12,626

Kyle Busch    5,319    9,826

Greg Biffle     5,216    12,626

Matt Kenseth     5,131    12,626

Denny Hamlin    4,792    7,526

Jeff Burton     4,634    12,626

Jamie McMurray     4,547    12,626

Kasey Kahne     4,240    12,626

Elliott Sadler     3,698    12,626

Mark Martin     3,233    9,610

Carl Edwards     3,176    10,726

Bobby Labonte     2,839    12,626

Clint Bowyer    2,674    7,026

Martin Truex Jr.    1,168    7,026

Dave Blaney     1,026    10,226

Casey Mears     1,017    12,626

Scott Riggs    896    12,626

Brian Vickers     849    10,720

Michael Waltrip     792    10,422

Juan Montoya    684    4,226

David Ragan    649    4,726

Joe Nemechek     555    10,616

Terry Labonte    522    4,700

Tony Raines     482    6,410

Reed Sorenson    465    7,026

Travis Kvapil     386    7,516

Johnny Sauter     301    5,416

Robby Gordon     158    12,626

David Reutimann    60    3,222

Sam Hornish Jr.    40    1,416

David Gilliland    32    5,626

Paul Menard    26    3,222

Patrick Carpentier    25    910

Regan Smith    3    2,420

A.J. Allmendinger    1    3,220

Mike Skinner    0    1,506

Average Running Position

Last three years

Rank    Driver    Average Place

1    Matt Kenseth    7.336

2    Jeff Gordon    8.905

3    Kevin Harvick    10.246

4    Greg Biffle    10.725

5    Tony Stewart    11.580

6    Dale Earnhardt Jr.    11.828

7    Jeff Burton    12.687

8    Kurt Busch    14.334

9    Carl Edwards    14.758

10    Denny Hamlin    15.105

11    Elliott Sadler    16.017

12    Jimmie Johnson    16.061

13    Kasey Kahne    16.460

14    Kyle Busch    16.698

15    Clint Bowyer    17.097

16    Mark Martin    18.448

17    Bobby Labonte    19.359

18    Ryan Newman    19.385

19    Martin Truex Jr.    20.749

20    Juan Montoya    20.950

21    Jeff Green    22.550

22    Jamie McMurray    22.766

23    Michael Waltrip    23.368

24    Dave Blaney    23.708

25    Scott Riggs    24.040