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What to Watch for: Bristol

Busch's Up-and-Down Road at Bristol; Eyes Weekend Triple

Kyle Busch won Wednesday night's Truck Series race at Bristol, his 18th career National Series (Cup, XFINITY and Truck series) win at the track. That's 5 more than any other driver. Busch will also run Friday's XFINITY Series race and Saturday's Cup race at the track, trying to replicate the feat he pulled off in August 2010 at Bristol, winning all 3 series' races in a single weekend. He's the only driver to pull it off.

Busch is also 40 laps from becoming the 8th driver in Cup Series history to lead 2,000 laps at the track.

But the road hasn't been so smooth for Busch lately at Bristol. He's wrecked out of 4 of the last 5 Bristol races, despite leading more than 190 laps in each of the last 2 August races.

If Kyle Busch wins in the next few weeks, he'll become the 4th-youngest driver in Cup Series history at the time of their 40th Cup win. Only Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and Herb Thomas were youngest.

Chances for Logano to Win?

Joey Logano finished 5th earlier this season at Bristol, and then won the following race at Richmond. But rules violations found after that win caused him to lose the playoff eligibility that came with a win. 14 races later, and Logano finds himself without another win and sitting 98 points from the playoff cutoff line. He's really struggled since the encumbered win at Richmond.

But there's reason for hope, as Logano ran well earlier this season at Bristol (leading a season-high 72 laps and finishing 5th), and winning at Richmond (albeit a win with rules violations found after the race).

At the beginning of the season, Logano had 5-1 odds to win the series championship, tied for the favorite along with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. Now he has 80-1 odds, tied for the 11th favorite along with Kurt Busch (who has qualified for the playoffs), Jamie McMurray (currently in on points) and Clint Bowyer (1st driver out).

Playoff Picture With 3 to Go

We've already covered Logano, but how are some of the other notable bubble drivers looking heading to Bristol?

• Chase Elliott
Elliott appears to be in good shape for the playoffs, despite not going to victory lane yet in 2017. He's 62 points ahead of the cutoff and has run well at Bristol in his career (8.7 avg finish).
• Jamie McMurray
McMurray is also in good shape, 52 points ahead of the cutoff and 21 points ahead of Matt Kenseth should a 1st-time winner with fewer points find a victory. In his last 6 races at Bristol, he's never finished worse than 14th.
• Matt Kenseth
Kenseth is currently the last driver in the playoffs on points, 31 points ahead of Clint Bowyer. But should a driver behind him in the standings, he'd be in trouble. Kenseth has 4 career wins at Bristol, but has recorded DNFs in each of his last 2 night races there.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. needs a win to get into the playoffs and his 5 career wins on short tracks gives him a shot this weekend (won at Bristol in 2004). However, he did finish 38th there in the spring.

Toyota Has Reigned Supreme

Last week at Michigan, Brad Keselowski ruffled some feathers by suggesting Toyota drivers weren't bringing their best equipment and that it was time for them to "kind of tune it down" so as to not have NASCAR change any rules to ensure manufacturer parity. Kyle Busch, who has had a long-standing rivalry with Keselowski, retorted with saying, "Brad's a (expletive) moron.

Toyotas have been the dominant manufacturer recently, having won 11 of the last 13 stages (Stage 1 and 2 of races, not final stage for race win). And Toyota drivers have been responsible for the 5 highest laps led totals at short tracks (Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville) over the last 2 seasons.

Crazy Things Happen at Bristol

One thing this race has is a history of controversial finishes and driver feuds. From Dale Earnhardt spinning Terry Labonte across the finish line twice in 5 years (once winning, once wrecking Labonte across the finish line), to Tony Stewart throwing his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car, excitement follows this race.

InPlay - Hot Summer Nights in Bristol
• August 23, 2014: After wrecking together the year before (due to a Hamlin cut tire), Kevin Harvick took out Denny Hamlin while racing for the lead. Hamlin, from the apron, throws his HANS device at Harvick's moving car, hitting it.
• August 25, 2012: Tony Stewart throws his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car following an on-track incident; Danica Patrick wags her finger at Regan Smith (the driver who replaced her at JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series in 2013) after they get together.
• August 23, 2008: Carl Edwards uses the bumper to get by Kyle Busch inside the final 35 laps and goes on to win. Busch bumps Edwards after the race, and Edwards responds by spinning Busch's car.
• August 24, 2002: Ward Burton responds to getting spun by Dale Earnhardt Jr. by throwing his heat pads off his shoes at him. After the wreck, Burton says that he wish he had something he could've shot through the window.
• August 26, 1995/August 28, 1999: Dale Earnhardt made a late charge to catch Terry Labonte in 1995 on the final lap, clipping Labonte's car and wrecking it, but Labonte crossed the finish line first and drove his wrecked car into victory lane. In 1999, the roles were reversed, as Labonte charged from 5th to 1st in the final 5 laps, passing Earnhardt for the lead. But Earnhardt made his move early this time, spinning Labonte and going on to win.

The last time there was a last-lap pass to win at Bristol, it was Earnhardt wrecking Terry Labonte on the final lap to win in 1999. In 1995, Earnhardt tried to get to Labonte, but spun and wrecked him across the finish line, letting Labonte drive his torn-up car into Victory Lane.

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Bristol Edition

HOT
• Kevin Harvick: finished 7th or better (3 top-3 finishes) in last 4 Bristol races; no top-5 finishes in previous 13 Bristol races)
• Clint Bowyer: finished 2nd at Bristol earlier this season (6 2nd-place finishes since last win in Oct. 2012)
• Joey Logano: 2 wins, 5 top-10 finishes in last 6 Bristol races (both wins in August races)
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 13.3 career Avg finish at Bristol (his 3rd-best at 24 tracks where he's run a Cup race)
• Jimmie Johnson: finished 7th or better in 5 of last 6 Bristol races (trying to be 1st driver to sweep Cup races at Bristol since Kyle Busch in 2009)

NOT
• Kyle Busch: wrecked out of last 3 and 4 of last 5 Bristol races (started 7th or better in all 5 races)
• Kurt Busch: winless in last 22 Bristol races (won 5 of first 11 Bristol starts)
• Martin Truex Jr.: 1 top-10 finish (8th earlier this season) in last 10 Bristol races; 2 top-5 finishes in 23 career Bristol starts
• Matt Kenseth: finished outside top 35 in 3 of last 4 Bristol races (4th earlier this season)
• Kyle Larson: Bristol is 1 of 4 Cup Series tracks where he doesn't have a top-5 finish (others are Daytona, Talladega and Sonoma)
• Ryan Blaney: 0 top-10 finishes in 4 career Bristol starts (35th and 33rd in last 2)

--- ESPN Stats & Info ---