Jeff Gordon picked up his third win of the season last week at Michigan.
Here are the projections for Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a .533-mile oval short track) and time of year.
With three races remaining until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set, all drivers who have won races so far have mathematically locked themselves into the Chase (as long as they attempt to qualify for the final races). At least one winless driver is now guaranteed to make the Chase, as the field of 16 will be rounded out with the winless drivers highest in points.
Jeff Gordon picked up his third win of the season last week at Michigan, giving him his 14th career three-win season. That moves him into sole possession of the second-most such seasons in Cup Series history, trailing only Richard Petty’s 20. Gordon’s win was his first at Michigan since 2001, and his last win at Bristol came in 2002.
Jimmie Johnson has been slumping despite being tied with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski for the NSCS lead in wins. In the last eight races, Johnson’s Hendrick teammates (Gordon, Earnhardt and winless Kasey Kahne) rank first, second and tied for third in most points earned -- Johnson ranks 26th during that span.
Kyle Busch has finished 42nd, 40th and 39th in the last three races -- the worst stretch of his Sprint Cup Series career. Saturday night's race at the bullring could be a turning point, however, as he’s won 26 percent of his Cup starts at Bristol (the second-highest mark all time behind Cale Yarborough’s 31 percent). Entering this week, Busch has won 16 times at Bristol across NASCAR’s top three series, the most all-time.
• Kasey Kahne: Four straight top-10 finishes at Bristol (top-two in two of last three)
• Matt Kenseth: 579 laps led in last six Bristol races (leads all drivers)
• Brian Vickers: Five straight top-10 finishes at Bristol (zero in first 14 career Bristol races)
• Paul Menard: Four top-10s in his last five Bristol races (five top-10s at Bristol tied for his most at any track)
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Zero top-5 finishes in last 12 Bristol races (last top-5 came in March 2008)
• Kurt Busch: In five of his last six Bristol races, he's been 17th or worse (five Bristol wins, but last in 2006)
• Kevin Harvick: One top-10 finish in last 11 Bristol races (zero top-5s); 34th and 39th in last two Bristol races