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Bristol Favors Surprise Contenders

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Restrictor plate tracks have often been known as the great equalizers in NASCAR. The unpredictability that often defines races at Daytona and Talladega provides an opportunity for smaller teams to succeed.

Bristol Motor Speedway may not immediately come to mind as a track in this category, but it has produced similar characteristics in its races through recent years.

Dating back to August 2013, many competitors have posted breakout performances at “The Last Great Colosseum.”

Striking a balance between patience and aggressiveness is critical at short tracks and road courses. This allowed road racing aces Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose to perform well at Bristol. In the 2013 night race, they finished third and eighth respectively.

In March 2014, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. captured his best career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finish of second while Aric Almirola placed third, and Ambrose had another strong run and ended up fifth.

Stenhouse Jr. again impressed many in the next two events, finishing sixth in August 2014 and fourth in April 2015. Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick also performed well in April, placing eighth and ninth respectively.

One year ago, smaller organizations thrived at Bristol. Front Row Motorsports’ Landon Cassill led 20 laps, and BK Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto scored the team’s highest result in its five years of existence by finishing sixth.

Roush Fenway Racing found more success last season as Trevor Bayne placed fifth in April and Stenhouse finished runner-up in August. Chris Buescher also ran well in August, coming home fifth in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford that shares a technical alliance with RFR.

Many of these performances marked career highs for the competitors, attesting to Bristol’s ability to favor surprise contenders.

RFR has struggled in recent seasons, but Bristol has often shown promise for the organization. Bayne’s top-five performance last April stood as his best non-plate track finish of the season, and his finest performance since winning the 2011 DAYTONA 500.

Bristol is Stenhouse Jr.’s best track on the schedule as he holds an average finish of 10.6. Of his eight career top-five performances, three have come at the track, and in his last six Bristol starts, he has posted four top-10 finishes.

A victory would be monumental for RFR. Bristol may present their best opportunity to achieve this feat and break their winless streak that dates back to Carl Edwards’ win at Sonoma in 2014.

Along with the classic short-track racing atmosphere, the unknown factor playing a larger role adds intrigue heading into the Food City 500. Whether its RFR or another small team, surprise contenders may make some noise on Sunday.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.