Cup All-Stars Turn in All-Star Performances at The Last Great Colosseum
Being an all-star means a variety of things: turning in exceptional performances that result in great numbers, being at the top of one's game at the right time.
With the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race teed up for the green flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday, 19 drivers who have done just that since the start of the 2013 season already have secured their way into the field.
They are, in alphabetical order: Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., and Brian Vickers.
So, while knocking around the names on the entry list, a question arose: What is the track-record, pardon the really bad pun, of that group, either individually or collectively, at The Last Great Colosseum?
The answer? Well, like all-stars really.
Between them, the 19 drivers have 29 Sprint Cup wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. Of the 187 top-10 finishes the groups has collectively put in the books, 105, or 56 percent, were top-five runs.
Those numbers indicate evidence exists the cream rises to the top when race teams face the challenges of Bristol Motor Speedway. But as one might think would be the case when dealing with a place as tough as Bristol, the hill gets a little steeper to climb, even for this group of all-stars, when career attempts are thrown into the equation.
While nearly 60 percent of the top-10 runs were top-five finishes, the success rate drops when those numbers are compared to total races. Of the 424 starts at Bristol compiled by this group, less than half, 44 percent ended in top-10 finishes, validating the test Bristol provides, even to a collection of all-stars.
Still, surviving on the high banks at BMS has well served several members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a few drivers in this weekend's race are building quite a resume at Bristol as well.
The elder statesman in the group is Gordon. Third on NASCAR's all-time win list, Gordon has 43 starts at Bristol, far more than the next closest competitor, Stewart, who has 30. Earnhardt, Jr., and Kenseth each have started 29.
In his 43 races, Gordon has posted 24 top-10 finishes, 16 of which have been top-fives. Five times he has visited victory lane, including four straight Food City 500 wins 1995-98. Gordon's performances at Bristol reflect his overall credentials for induction into the Hall of Fame: four series titles and 89 wins, including at least one a year in 19 of the last 21. Every former driver with five or more wins at Bristol already is in the Hall.
That might bode well for the Busch brothers as well. In 27 starts at Bristol, Kurt has 12 top-10s and seven top-fives - five of which are wins. Kyle has 12 top-10s in 19 races with five wins - about one every four tries -- as well.
It seems to be feast or famine for Edwards at Bristol. Despite strong runs nearly every time he rolls into town, he has just eight top-10 finishes in 20 starts. But five of those are top-fives, three of which are wins, including the Food City 500 last March.
The other three-time Bristol winner on the list is Kenseth, who has 18 top-10 runs - second on this list behind Gordon -- in his 29 starts and has led at least 25 laps in the last six consecutive races.
In addition to Kyle Busch, Gordon and Kenseth, three other drivers - Biffle, Johnson and Newman - has posted top-10 finishes in at least half of their races at Bristol.
Even the drivers with no Cup wins at BMS have had significant accomplishments here.
Logano, Ragan and Truex, Jr. all have Nationwide wins at Bristol. Newman has two modified victories, a Nationwide win and held the Sprint Cup track qualifying record for a decade. Vickers has five straight top-10s and McMurray has five in seven races and has failed to finish only one of his 23 starts at the Last Great Colosseum.
But while success at Bristol tends to lead to big things in a driver's career, those all-star feats have not necessarily translated to accomplishments in the all-star race - at least in the same season.
Only four times has the winner of the spring event at Bristol gone on to win the all-star race later in the season and it has not happened since Gordon did it in 1997.
Will Edwards break the string this year? Or will someone else rise to the occasion?
Everyone finds out Saturday night.