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No shortage of challengers for pre-race favorite Busch

Jeff Birchfield • May 31, 2020 at 10:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch goes into Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as the pre-race favorite, but there is plenty of competition starting with the letter H.

Hamlin, Harvick, Hendrick and horsepower.

Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, leads all active drivers with eight Cup Series wins at Bristol, including the last two spring races. He has 21 victories total on the high-banked short track covering NASCAR’s three national series.

Busch has four top-five finishes in eight starts this season, including runner- up finishes at California and the second Darlington race.

But Busch has to look no further than Gibbs stablemate Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 to find his chief competition.

Hamlin has two wins this season, including his third in the Daytona 500. He also won the first and last races in the eNASCAR iRacing Series during the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

Hamlin is a two-time winner of the Bristol night race, including last August. He’s also coming off a second-place finish in Thursday’s race at Charlotte.

Kevin Harvick was the winner in NASCAR’s return to action at Darlington. He had the dominant car much of Thursday’s race at Charlotte before fading in the late going. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford explained that his car was set up for the short runs of 30 laps when the race ended on a 60-lap, caution-free run.

His track record at Bristol includes two wins, the most recent in 2016, the first year the track experimented with the PJ1 sticky compound in the turns.

Hendrick Motorsports is also experiencing a resurgence after struggles the past two seasons. Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott have each scored wins in 2020, and Jimmie Johnson and William Byron have each shown strength at times.

Bowman won in dominating fashion at California. His No. 88 Chevrolet finished nearly nine seconds ahead of Busch. While he hasn’t gotten the results other than a runner-up finish at Darlington, Bowman has led 369 laps this season.

Elliott, who won the pole for the 2019 Food City 500, is the hottest driver going into this year’s race. If not for an accident with Busch at Darlington and a late caution in the Coca-Cola 600, the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet could easily arrive at Bristol with three straight victories.

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, is a two-time winner of the Bristol spring race. While his career-long winless streak has reached over 100 races, there has been promise. He led the early going in the first Darlington race before getting too aggressive trying to pass a slower car and slamming into the wall. He crossed the finish line second in the next Darlington race before his No. 48 Chevrolet was disqualified after failing post-race inspection.

Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, won the iRacing event at Bristol during the shutdown. He has struggled to show the same results on the actual racetracks, recording only one top-10 finish through the first eight races. Still, his car has shown speed and he would seem in prime position to better a career-best 16th- place finish at Bristol.

When talking horsepower, Team Penske has shown plenty early on. Joey Logano won two races in the No. 22 Ford before the shutdown. Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford stayed on track when Elliott pitted late in the Coca-Cola 600 to get the marquee win.

Ryan Blaney also showed power in the No. 12 Ford, finishing third in Thursday’s Charlotte race. He also broke the track qualifying record at Bristol for the 2019 Food City 500.

The H also stands for the Ganassi Racing combination’s handfuls of wins. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet, is a six-time Bristol winner, and Matt Kenseth in the No. 42 has four Bristol wins.

While Kyle Busch has the best Bristol record, there are plenty of challengers he must hold off to take home the trophy Sunday.

Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 Lineup

At Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tenn.

Lap length: .533 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford.

2. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford.

3. (22) Joey Logano, Ford.

4. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford.

5. (19) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota.

6. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet.

7. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota.

8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford.

9. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford.

10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota.

11. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet.

12. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet.

13. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet.

14. (42) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet.

15. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota.

16. (47) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chevrolet.

17. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford.

18. (38) John Hunter Nemechek, Ford.

19. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford.

20. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet.

21. (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet.

22. (41) Cole Custer, Ford.

23. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford.

24. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet.

25. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford.

26. (53) Bayley Currey, Chevrolet.

27. (51) Joey Gase, Chevrolet.

28. (00) Quin Houff, Dodge, Chevrolet.

29. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet.

30. (27) Gray Gaulding, Ford.

31. (77) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet.

32. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford.

33. (37) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet.

34. (15) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet.

35. (95) Christopher Bell, Toyota.

36. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet.

37. (96) Daniel Suarez, Toyota.

38. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota.

39. (78) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet.

40. (7) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet.

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