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Statistically Speaking

Food City 500 Stats

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

This week’s race: Food City 500 Supporting Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer
Traditional Name: Southeastern 500
Other Notable Names: Valleydale 500, Valleydale Meats 500

In the current economy, it seems that sponsors are constantly coming and going. Just when a race name gets memorized, it vanishes from the lexicon, so for fans interested in the history of the sport it is refreshing that the Southeastern 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway has had only two sponsors for the spring race. From 1980 through 1991 the race was either the Valleydale 500 or Valleydale Meats 500. Since 1992, it has been the Food City 500.

This week the race will officially be called the Food City 500 Supporting Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer and one other time the naming has been altered to honor a man. In 2011, the race was called the Jeff Byrd 500 by Food City.

Call it what one will, 500 laps at Bristol is a tough race because drivers are in constant traffic. The pole for both races last year was earned at just under and just over 15 seconds. Kevin Harvick grabbed the top spot in the fall with a time of 14.607; Denny Hamlin started first in the spring with a 15.154. Add 42 other cars to the Mixmaster and it takes only a few laps to catch up to the back of the pack. Winning here means a driver put in a full day’s work.

There are a few perfect tracks on the circuit and for short track fans, they do not come any more unspoiled than Bristol.

This was once a track replete with sweeps, but in recent seasons drivers have struggled to back up one top-10 with another. The only racer with a streak of any real note is Paul Menard and he failed to double down last year. In fact, no one swept the top five in both Bristol races last year and only two earned back-to-back top-10s. Bristol is becoming as mysterious as it is tough.

10 best drivers at Bristol

Over the past six races, these drivers have the best average finish on this track.

1. Clint Bowyer
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 10.33
Career avg. finish: 16.1 in 18 attempts

Bowyer begins a theme that will be continued throughout this week’s “Statistically Speaking” column: drivers have struggled to develop and maintain momentum. His average finish of 10.3 in the past six races would land him only halfway down the list on another track, but it gives him top billing here. He owes his position in the elite to three consecutive top-10s in 2012 and 2013.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 10.50 (4 starts)
Career avg. finish: 10.5 in 4 attempts

Young Guns are not supposed to run particularly well at Bristol, so it is notable that sophomore Stenhouse occupies the second position in the three-year average chart. He was good, but not great in his rookie season with a 16th in the spring and 18th in the fall. He found his rhythm last year and nearly won the spring race—finishing second to teammate Carl Edwards—before finishing sixth in the fall.

3. Paul Menard
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 10.83
Career avg. finish: 19.3 in 16 attempts

Menard comes closest to being a dominating driver in the past six races and if not for a 21st last spring, he would have a perfect sweep of the top 10. Instead, he settles for six top-10s in the past eight races with a best of fifth in spring 2011. If not for bad results in his last two races of this season, one would be tempted to make him a favorite on Sunday.

4. Kyle Larson
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 11.00 (2 starts)
Career avg. finish: 11.0 in 2 attempts

Larson is one of the rare drivers who scored a top-10 in his first Bristol start and if not for crash damage in the fall Irwin Tools Night Race he might have swept the top spots. He settled for 12th instead. A similarly strong record at Texas last week was not enough to keep him out of trouble, however, which proves there are no guarantees in NASCAR.

5. Joey Logano
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 11.17
Career avg. finish: 18.3 in 12 attempts

During the past three years, Logano has been strong in only one Bristol race each season; he has been mediocre in the alternating event. Unfortunately for this week’s handicap, his best runs have come in the fall with a victory last year, a fifth in 2013, and an eighth in 2012. He has failed to crack the top 15 in a single running of the Food City 500.

6. Greg Biffle
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 12.33
Career avg. finish: 11.9 in 24 attempts

Biffle’s last top-five at Bristol came in 2010, but he has been one of the most consistent drivers since. He had a 31st in 2011, which is the only time he finished off the lead lap. His last six races have been unmarred by anything more than a 19th and the remainder of his efforts landed in the top 15.

7. Matt Kenseth
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.17
Career avg. finish: 12.2 in 30 attempts

Like Logano, Kenseth has also been at his best in the fall recently. He won the 2013 Irwin Tools Night Race and finished third last year. He also has a second-place finish in the spring 2012 race. Those three solid results outweigh back-to-back results of 25th or worse in fall 2012/spring 2013. Kenseth was one of the last streakers at Bristol with six consecutive top-10s from 2009 through 2012 and that raises him in players’ estimation.

8. Brad Keselowski
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.33
Career avg. finish: 13.1 in 10 attempts

Inconsistency has plagued Keselowski to the same degree as most of the top 10. He won the spring 2012 Food City 500, which was his second straight victory on this track. But he sustained crash damage and finished 30th that fall. He finished third in spring 2013 and crashed again later that year to finish 30th. He improved overall in 2014 with a 14th in the spring and a second in the fall.

9. Jimmie Johnson (tied with Kahne)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 15.33
Career avg. finish: 15.0 in 26 attempts

Johnson earned four consecutive top-10s in 2011/2012, but he has not had an incident-free race since. He sustained crash damage in both 2013 races to finish 22nd and 36th, suffered a flat tire last spring before finishing 19th, and had a speeding penalty in the fall. He rallied in that race to finish fourth, but had a car capable of winning.

9. Kasey Kahne (tied with Johnson)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 15.33
Career avg. finish: 17.8 in 22 attempts

Kahne would be much higher on this list if his last six races were not bracketed by results in the mid-30s. He sustained crash damage in spring 2012 and had a suspension problem last fall, but if he can finish well on Sunday he should jump up the charts considerably. His future six-race average will be helped substantially by a victory in 2013 and a runner-up finish that same fall.

Others of Note

15. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 17.67
Career avg. finish: 12.9 in 30 attempts

Earnhardt had an interesting stat entering last year’s Food City 500. He had finished better than he qualified in 20 consecutive races and on the lead lap in all but one of those events. He struggled in 2014 with a 24th in the spring and finished one lap off the pace. Fall was even worse because he failed to finish at all and retired 39th on lap 176.

18. Martin Truex Jr.
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 19.50
Career avg. finish: 20.3 in 18 attempts

Bristol is going to be another test of Truex’s resolve since his last three starts there ended in results of 20th or worse. He earned back-to-back top-fives in fall 2011/spring 2012, however, and that is the stat that he will chose to remember before firing up the car on Sunday.

20. Denny Hamlin
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 19.67
Career avg. finish: 16.9 in 18 attempts

Hamlin’s accident-induced, 40th-place finish last fall hurts a six-race average that includes a victory in fall 2012 and a sixth last spring. That single bad result is not the only thing that brought him low, however, because accidents contributed to two more sub-20th-place results in the past three years. Hamlin is erratic and a little scary to fantasy owners.

22. Kevin Harvick
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 20.67
Career avg. finish: 14.2 in 28 attempts

Bristol will be a great test of whether recent momentum during a season or on a track has the most importance. Harvick enters the week with a famous streak of nine top-two finishes and sweep of the top 10 in his last 10 attempts, but he has only one top-10 finish at Bristol in the past 12 efforts.

27. Aric Almirola
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 25.00
Career avg. finish: 27.3 in 12 attempts

Almirola enters the Food City 500 Supporting Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer with a 19-point cushion on the 17th position in the points and he just may need all of that to keep from falling out of Chase contention. He has suffered significant crash damage in four of his last five starts. The good news is that he avoided trouble and finished third in last year’s edition of this race.  

 

Rank

Driver

3-Year Avg. Finish

Attempts

1.

Clint Bowyer

10.33

6

2.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

10.50

4

3.

Paul Menard

10.83

6

4.

Kyle Larson

11.00

2

5.

Joey Logano

11.17

6

6.

Greg Biffle

12.33

6

7.

Matt Kenseth

13.17

6

8.

Brad Keselowski

13.33

6

9.

Jimmie Johnson

15.33

6

9.

Kasey Kahne

15.33

6

 

11.

Jamie McMurray

16.50

6

12.

Jeff Gordon

17.00

6

13.

AJ Allmendinger

17.25

4

14.

Ryan Newman

17.50

6

15.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

17.67

6

16.

Justin Allgaier

18.00

2

17.

Tony Stewart

19.00

4

18.

Martin Truex Jr.

19.50

6

18.

Austin Dillon

19.50

2

20.

Denny Hamlin

19.67

6

21.

Kurt Busch

20.17

6

22.

Kevin Harvick

20.67

6

23.

Carl Edwards

21.00

6

24.

David Gilliland

23.67

6

24.

David Ragan

23.67

6

26.

Casey Mears

24.50

6

27.

Aric Almirola

25.00

6

28.

Danica Patrick

25.60

5

29.

Landon Cassill

26.83

6

30.

JJ Yeley

28.50

6

31.

Michael McDowell

32.00

6

31.

Michael Annett

32.00

2

33.

Alex Bowman

32.00

2

34.

Josh Wise

32.67

6

35.

Cole Whitt

35.00

2

36.

Mike Bliss

43.33

3

 

Exercise Caution

Most caution flags: 20 (three times), 2003 Sharpie 500, 1997 Food City 500, 1989 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest caution flags: 0, 1971 Volunteer 500
Average number of caution flags per race: 8.9

Final Caution, last five races:
August 2014: 432 of 500: debris
March 2014: Lap 500 of 503: caution laps inadvertently tripped.
August 2013: Lap 448 of 500: 8-car accident in turn 3 (Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ken Schrader, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, and David Stremme)
March 2013: Lap 456 of 500: 1-car accident in turn 3 (Jimmie Johnson)
August 2012: Lap 436 of 500: 2-car accident on frontstretch (Danica Patrick and Regan Smith)

Most caution laps: 167, 1965 Volunteer 500
Fewest caution laps: 0, 1971 Volunteer 500
Average number of caution laps per race: 63.0

Leading the way

Most leaders: 16, 1989 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest leaders: 1, 1973 Southeastern 500
Average number of leaders: 6.7

Most lead changes: 40, 1991 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest lead changes: 0, 1973 Southeastern 500
Average number of lead changes: 12.9

Victory Lane

Last five winners at Bristol (starting position):
August 2014: Joey Logano (5)
March 2014: Carl Edwards (12)
August 2013: Matt Kenseth (5)
March 2013: Kasey Kahne (2)
August 2012: Denny Hamlin (8)

Worst starting position for race winner: 38th, Elliott Sadler 2001 Food City 500

A race at Bristol has been won by the pole sitter 22 times and from the front row 35 times in 108 races.

Recent races won from the pole:
Carl Edwards: 2008 Sharpie 500
Matt Kenseth: 2005 Sharpie 500
Jeff Gordon: 2002 Sharpie 500
Rusty Wallace: 2000 Goracing.com 500

Active winners at Bristol:
Kurt Busch: 5
Kyle Busch: 5
Jeff Gordon: 5
Carl Edwards: 3
Matt Kenseth: 3
Brad Keselowski: 2
Jimmie Johnson: 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1
Denny Hamlin: 1
Kevin Harvick: 1
Kasey Kahne: 1
Tony Stewart: 1

First time winners at Bristol:
2002: Kurt Busch, Food City 500
2001: Elliott Sadler, Food City 500
1990: Ernie Irvan, Busch 500
1986: Rusty Wallace, Valleydale 500
1979: Dale Earnhardt Sr., Southeastern 500

Running at the End

The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Bristol race they started:

Kyle Busch (19)
Paul Menard (15)
AJ Allmendinger (13)
Brad Keselowski (10)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (4)
Justin Allgaier (2)
Alex Bowman (2)
Austin Dillon (2)
Ron Hornaday Jr. (2)
Kyle Larson (2)
Cole Whitt (2)
Trevor Bayne (1)

Joey Logano blew an engine and failed to finish in 2009, but he has been running at the end of 11 races since.
Danica Patrick crashed and failed to finish in 2015, but she has been running at the end of five races since.

Great Starts

Active drivers with top-10s in their first start on this track:
Greg Biffle: fifth (2003)
Jimmie Johnson: seventh (2002)
Travis Kvapil: seventh (2005)
Kyle Larson: 10th (2014)

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.