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Five things to watch in tonight’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol

Irwin Tools Night Race

Irwin Tools Night Race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. - David Ragan might have a good idea for Bristol Motor Speedway before tonight’s Sprint Cup race.

Put a bounty on Joe Gibbs Racing.

You know, just like what has been done at local short tracks when a driver starts dominating. To add a little more spice to the race, the promoter puts extra money out for someone else to win.

With Joe Gibbs Racing having won six of the last eight points races, it might be time for something like that in the Sprint Cup Series.

“Bruton (Smith) is kind of a neat promoter, so maybe he’ll put a bounty on them,’’ Ragan joked. “An extra 100 grand if you can beat the Gibbs guys.’’

That’s the challenge for every team - find a way to beat the Gibbs cars. Denny Hamlin starts on the pole with Kyle Busch second, Carl Edwards third and Matt Kenseth, who won at this track in the spring, 13th.

If anyone can beat the Gibbs cars is just among the storylines tonight.

Don’t be an oddball. Other than the car in first, drivers don’t want to be in an odd spot on a restart. Cars in third, fifth, seventh, etc. will start on the inside line on restarts. That line is a disadvantage.

Let Matt Kenseth explain:

“The biggest thing here is it’s not so much when you get to the corner, it’s just getting rolling in that restart zone. There’s less rubber (on the inside line) because less people run, there’s less banking there the way they built the track as a dish. There’s a lot of reasons, but it just seems like it’s hard to get rolling from the bottom groove. Just got a lot more tire spin. That’s the biggest problem.

“It’s just tougher to get rolling, plus the guy on the outside has all of the advantage. He gets to pick when he goes and the inside guy when you get to these smaller tracks and stuff, he’s watching that outside guy and you can’t beat him outside of the zone so you’re always a split second later getting to the gas. With these tall gears and stuff you run at these kind of places they just get way pretty quick.”

Surprise winner? Three drivers in the top 10 are looking for their first victory of the year and a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Could this be their night?

David Ragan starts fourth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starts a season-best eighth and Clint Bowyer is ninth.

“We generally get better as the race goes on, so hopefully starting closer to the front will be a little bit better for us,’’ Stenhouse said.

If not him, will someone else surprise tonight?

Step Back. There had been talk in recent weeks about Tony Stewart’s team on an upswing after a tremendous amount of struggles this season.

This weekend has been a step back. Stewart starts a season-worst 40th. It’s the third time in the last seven Bristol races he’s started 30th or worse.

Does he bounce back or do his woes continue?

Awaken a sleeping giant. Hendrick Motorsports has had its struggles this summer.

“We’re not where we want to be,’’ Jeff Gordon said Friday.

Bristol might not be the best place for the organization to shake its doldrums, though.

Hendrick has won three of the last 25 races at Bristol - Roush Fenway Racing has eight wins during that streak and Joe Gibbs Racing has six wins.

Hendrick has not had a car finish better than 10th each of the past two races. Does that streak end tonight?

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