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Bristol’s Spring Race Has Been Driver Springboard

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 6 2019
Dale Earnhardt got his first Cup victory when he won the Bristol spring race in 1979. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Forty years ago, a 27-year-old Dale Earnhardt rolled into victory lane for the first time in his NASCAR Cup career, defeating veteran Bobby Allison by three seconds at the track then known as Bristol International Speedway.

It was Earnhardt’s only victory during the 1979 season, but by the end of the year he had led 605 laps, and added 11 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, four poles and Rookie of the Year honors to his racing resume. That day offered a preview to one of the sport’s future stars.

Such has been the case through the decades as the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway has served as the sport’s fortune teller. In addition to seven-time NASCAR champion Earnhardt, NASCAR Hall of Fame members Cale Yarborough, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon secured their first Bristol victories in the track’s spring race. Earnhardt, Wallace and Yarborough acquired nine victories each at the high-speed half-mile track, while Waltrip totaled 12 and Gordon five.

However, it’s those NASCAR champions’ ages at the time of their first Bristol victories that are synonymous with the first four drivers in the starting lineup for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. With the exception of Waltrip and Yarborough, they were all in their 20s, and that could signify a young, first-time Bristol winner on Sunday.

Chase Elliott will start from the pole at Bristol on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

Chase Elliott won the pole in qualifying Friday with a 131.713-mph lap. Joining the 23-year-old Elliott on the front row is Hendrick Motorsports teammate, 21-year-old William Byron. Ryan Blaney, 25, starts third and Erik Jones, 22, goes off fourth. That puts the average age of the first four on the grid at 22.75. Denny Hamlin, 38, starts the list of veteran drivers in the lineup with his fifth starting position. Still the top five on the grid have an average age of 25.8.

Elliott’s pole was his first at Bristol and the fifth of his Cup career. It also was his first at a non-restrictor-plate track. Acquiring a pole at a track other than Daytona and Talladega has been an objective of Elliott for quite some time.

“Having that first pit box is always a big deal, probably as big a deal here as anywhere we go,” Elliott said. “It’s not something I’ve enjoyed a whole lot in my career.

“If you have your car driving well, do your job and execute, this is a place that you can make a difference.”

And for those drivers who have not yet celebrated their 30th birthday that “difference” could translate into a victory.

Sunday’s Food City 500 starts at 2 p.m., ET, and will be televised on FS1.  

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Starting Order

Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol, TennesseeFriday, April 5, 2019

                   1. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 131.713 mph.

                   2. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 131.371 mph.

                   3. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 131.182 mph.

                   4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 131.057 mph.

                   5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 130.700 mph.

                   6. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 130.602 mph.

                   7. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 130.229 mph.

                   8. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 130.168 mph.

                   9. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 130.026 mph.

                   10. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 129.824 mph.

                   11. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 129.640 mph.

                   12. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 129.622 mph.

                   13. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 130.477 mph.

                   14. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 130.477 mph.

                   15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 130.274 mph.

                  16. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 130.229 mph.

                   17. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.824 mph.

                   18. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 129.789 mph.

                   19. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 129.657 mph.

                   20. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 129.570 mph.

                   21. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 129.351 mph.

                   22. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 129.317 mph.

                   23. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 129.177 mph.

                   24. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 128.339 mph.

                   25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 128.658 mph.

                   26. (8) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 128.554 mph.

                   27. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 128.305 mph.

                   28. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 128.288 mph.

                   29. (36) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 128.031 mph.

                   30. (47) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 127.258 mph.

                   31. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 126.603 mph.

                   32. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 125.675 mph.

                   33. (51) Gray Gaulding(i), Ford, 125.576 mph.

                   34. (52) Bayley Currey #, Chevrolet, 123.833 mph.

                   35. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 121.898 mph.

                   36. (77) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 115.202 mph.

                   37. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 6 2019
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