Heading into the fifth race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, here are five things to keep an eye on during Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway:
The Kyle Busch Experience
1 - Like him or not, you have to acknowledge that Kyle Busch has been the story in NASCAR this season.
His win in Sunday’s race at Atlanta was Toyota’s first victory in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s also won twice in the Trucks Series and finished second in one more Trucks race and in two Nationwide Series events.
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Busch has led 629 of the 1,842 laps run in NASCAR’s top three series this season. That’s 34.1 percent of all laps. He leads the Cup and Trucks series points races and is third, 74 points behind leader Kevin Harvick, in the Nationwide standings.
After the win at Atlanta, Busch was asked the kind of question that’s hard for anyone to answer about himself. Just how good are you?
“It’s great that you’re asking me that question,” said Busch, who said all the comments about his ability to drive a loose car and put it in places other drivers might not try to go is flattering. “But it is hard to answer.
“How good I am, I have no idea. I’m only as good as I perform. And the way that I’m performing is great.
"Whether that’s me, the equipment, I think it’s a mastery of both. I just try to go out there and run the best that I possibly can.”
Busch won last spring at Bristol, edging Jeff Burton in the inaugural car of tomorrow race, and has finished in the top 10 in his past four Cup races at the .533-mile track. He has one win and six top-10 finishes in seven Nationwide races here.
Making the grade
2 - This is the final race using last year’s car owner points to guarantee the top-35 spots in each week’s field. After this, 2008 points will be used.
J.J. Yeley sits in the 35th spot, 18 points ahead of Sam Hornish Jr.
Dave Blaney, Dario Franchitti, Regan Smith and Kyle Petty are also on the wrong side of that line. Here’s how that battle stacks up in the owner points:
30. Casey Mears, 331, +51 31. Jamie McMurray, 318, +38
32. Dale Jarrett, 315, +35
33. Michael Waltrip, 303, +23
34. Jeremy Mayfield, 301, +21
35. J.J. Yeley, 298, +18
36. Sam Hornish Jr., 280, -18
37. Dave Blaney, 273, -25
38. Dario Franchitti, 264, -34
39. Regan Smith, 232, -66
40. Kyle Petty, 217, -81
Chase hopefuls, it’s later than you think
3 - It’s still early, right?
Well, yes. After Sunday’s race, there will be 21 races left before the 12 drivers are selected for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But in the first four years there has been a Chase, 77 percent of the drivers in the top 12 in the standings after five races were also there after 26 races. That’s right, 37 of the 48 drivers who were 12th or better after 26 races were also 12th or better after five races.
Only two drivers in those four seasons – Matt Kenseth in 2005 and Martin Truex Jr. last year – were outside the top 20 after five races and came back to be in the top 12 after 26 races.
One of these things is not like the other
4 - Chevrolet dominated the Cup Series in 2007, but so far this year there’s been one win for Dodge, two for Ford and one for Toyota. Chevrolet is still seeking its first victory.
Chevrolet went winless in the first four races of the 1976 season before Cale Yarborough won the fifth race at Bristol. It’s only happened two other times since then. Ford won the first nine races of the 1992, then Chevrolet went eight races without winning in 2002.
D.J.’s final tune
5 - Dale Jarrett will attempt to qualify for his 668th career Cup race Friday, and it’s scheduled to be his final points race. He’ll officially say goodbye as a driver in May when he participates in the 2008 Sprint All-Star race.
Jarrett ranks 16th on the all-time list in career starts. He and Tony Stewart share 20th on the all-time victories list at 32, and Jarrett ranks fifth all-time in career earnings at just shy of $60 million.