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Friday, August 26, 2011
Expert picks for Bristol


After his win at Michigan last weekend, Kyle Busch is the clear favorite among our experts. Can the points leader pull out another win at a course he usually dominates? ESPN NASCAR personalities Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Jamie Little share their predictions for the top three finishers at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ricky Craven's winner

The greatest misconception about Bristol is that you have to be careful. In fact, the opposite is true. The drivers who finish at or near the top here have been very aggressive with the gas pedal and the steering wheel. You can't just cruise around Bristol and cautiously finish in the top three or top five. That doesn't happen. That's why Kyle Busch has had more success here than anybody. He has this sixth sense of knowing when to wait for things to happen and when to make them happen at this track. Bristol seems built for Kyle. The high-banked turns support throwing the car into the corner and going to the accelerator aggressively. In his career, he's shown the ability to go on a run and string together solid finishes, and after his win last week it just seems the planets are aligned for him to win again at Bristol.

On a track where I think drivers will benefit from aggression, Carl Edwards is another solid pick. I think athleticism and preparation really reward drivers at Bristol, and Carl's history speaks for itself in terms of that. Look for Concrete Carl to get aggressive at the appropriate times and come away with a good finish on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin is another driver with a strong history at Bristol. He has always run well here, but he's had some bad luck. I have vivid memories of Hamlin really running well, in the lead, and having some crazy problems that you just can't plan for. He's capable of a top-three finish, and he needs one. I think he'll find it at Bristol.

Johnny Benson's winner

Kyle Busch gets every type of racing. But Bristol short-track racing is his specialty. Up until Wednesday night, he had won five in a row at Bristol. He understands the track and what he needs in a race car to win these races. Barring any trouble with crashes, he has the best chance to win.

Kevin Harvick has also had cross-series success at Bristol. And in Cup, his success is definitely tied to running for Richard Childress. Their organization is very good at Bristol. And I think that's key. Harvick is sitting good in the Chase standings right now, so they can do what they need to do to go win that race. Bristol is an aggressive driver's racetrack. Harvick does a great job of pairing that aggression with a little bit of smoothness, so I expect him to do well.

My third selection, Brad Keselowski, is on a roll. He's finding his groove in the Cup series. And Penske racing has always had cars that run well at Bristol. With the organization and the driver firing on all cylinders, he's definitely a threat this weekend.

Rusty Wallace's winner

I think the winner this week will come from the top 10. At this point in the season, you've got to be strong to get into the top 10 and stay there, and I think the strongest drivers have the best shot at Bristol. And no one has been stronger lately than Kyle Busch. Give me the points leader to take this race.

For some reason, I have Kevin Harvick all over my mind with this race. He's an excellent short-track racer, and there's just something about him that stands out to me at this track. Harvick is good in everything he drives, and this is one of his favorite tracks. Let's put him on the podium too.

Third place here is hard to pick, because you're trying to imagine someone who could still have a shot at winning, but who will end up falling two places short. There are a lot of guys I could fit into that category. I'll go with Kurt Busch, who has won a few times at Bristol before. It's a track he loves, and I think he'll be in it from start to finish.

Dale Jarrett's winner

Until Kevin Harvick finally beat him out on Wednesday in the truck series race, Kyle Busch had won five straight races at Bristol across the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and truck series. He's phenomenal on this track and has been ever since he started driving his current car in 2007. No one handles Bristol like he does, and it clearly doesn't matter what he's driving. He's got the talent to dominate here, and it would benefit him to pile on some points, as well. I've stuck with him for the past few weeks, and he looks excellent heading into a course he's spectacular at, so I have no reason to drop him now.

Jeff Gordon is always solid at Bristol too. He hasn't looked like he's on the verge of winning lately, but he's consistently strong and solid, and I have a good feeling about him heading into this weekend.

Despite Clint Bowyer's ongoing contract dispute, I think he's in a place where he wants to gain points, and he's in a good position to at Bristol. He's consistently sharp on short tracks, and sitting in that 11th-place spot, you know he's looking for a win as the Chase for the Cup gets nearer and nearer. I think he's in line to run a great race this weekend.

Jamie Little's analysis

My pick for Bristol is Kyle Busch. You can't go wrong with a guy who's won four of the last five Cup races there! And by the way, he's coming off a big win at Michigan. The 18 group is the team to beat right now, especially when it comes to a short track he has dominated in the past.

My runner-up is the elder Busch brother, Kurt Busch. His younger brother's win at Michigan evened their career victories in the Cup series, and I think Kurt is fueled to keep the upper hand. Incidentally, the brothers are tied in the W category at Bristol too. Kurt Busch is always a threat there and he has a great shot at the win, but I see him taking a backseat to his brother Kyle.

Rounding out the top three? Carl Edwards. He's been on a downward spiral the last two months, and there's no better place for him to turn things around than at Bristol. He doesn't have to worry about fuel mileage, just sheer, hard racing. Edwards has two wins in the Cup series there, and I can't think of a track style that suits him better.