Weather washes out qualifying as Food City 500 race is up for grabs at Bristol

Weather washes out qualifying as Food City 500 race is up for grabs at Bristol

NASCAR returns this weekend after its Easter hiatus, and it returns to one of the most exciting tracks on the calendar, namely Bristol Motor Speedway with the Food City 500.

Paul Nicholson

The outlook is not great for the race this weekend with the weather radars showing a strong likelihood that the race could well be pushed to Sunday evening, or even Monday or Tuesday.

Postponements are not new to Bristol, with last year's Bristol showpiece event - the August Saturday night race - being rearranged for the Sunday afternoon.

The weather has already put paid to qualifying, and has seen NASCAR juggle the schedule for the whole weekend, just to make room for all the practice sessions.

And with the cancellation of qualifying comes another contentious issue - the ordering of the starting line-up based on Points standings.

Browsing through various social media pages this week, it is a common gripe with fans that lining up the cars having the standings leaders at the front is unfair, and that NASCAR should find an alternative method - particularly if there has already been a practice run.

Maybe a new rule should be brought in that stipulates the field should be lined up in the most recent practice order, should there have been any, and only when no practice has taken place should the owner points system be used.

This way will at least mix the order a little.

One practice session was completed - albeit delayed due to precipitation - and the one thing that was abundently clear from it, is that the Toyotas, that have seemed to struggle in the early season, look fast.

Jones tops the first practice leaderboard

Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones topped the leader board, in his Sports Clips Furniture Row Toyota, with a time of 15.009s, 0.089s faster than Kyle Busch in the M&Ms JGR Toyota.

In fact Toyotas held five of the top six places on the leaderboard, with the Ford of Ryan Blaney splitting them with a third fastest time of 15.110s.

Blaney in the Wood Brothers #21 car has been the success story of the early season for many. The sight of the famous red and white livery challenging for stage and race wins is a glimpse of former years, and has many a neutral fan cheering on the team seen as something of a NASCAR tradition.

Blaney, whose dad Dave was a 17-year veteran NASCAR driver, was very unlucky not to win the last race at Texas, despite winning the first two stages and leading the race for 148 of the 334 laps, and it appears to be merely a matter of time before the famous #21 car is back in Victory Lane.

That race at Texas was won by defending Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, snapping a streak of no wins from the first six regular season races in 2017, and their first since the Championship winning race at Homestead, Miami in the last race of the 2016 season..

Johnson will be scenting back to back victories

Now that Johnson has rediscovered the taste of Victory Lane, and has the fresh smell of burning rubber in his nostrils from his Texas burnout, the odds will be fairly short for him to repeat that feat with a win at Bristol this weekend.

Of all the current drivers, Johnson has the best average finish at 'Thunder Valley' - ninth place - over the past four races, and on a probable green track, there are not many drivers you would put your money on other than the #48 team - especially with the 'like him or loathe him' Chad Knaus calling the strategy from the pit box.

But Johnson looked slightly off the pace in practice, finishing 16th fastest with a best time of 15.246s - a full 0.237s behind the leader, which equates to a more than 2mph differential.

Due to the cancellation of qualifying, the ever-more impressive Kyle Larson will start on pole, but perhaps more importantly than that, he will have the number one pit stall, which is vital on short track like this one.

With Larson and the new young pretender to the throne, Chase Elliott, on the front row, it is becoming a familiar sight throughout 2017.

The two points leaders are certainly looking like the two to beat for the championship this season - although there is still a very long way to go - and it is a sign that the future of NASCAR is in safe hands, with the two being aged 24 and 21 respectively.

With 20-year-old rookie Jones topping the practice charts, and 23-year-old Blaney looking the part this season, these will be the drivers that carry the mantle of NASCAR for years to come.

But with only Larson out of the four having visited Victory Lane in the premier series' regular season so far, it remains to be seen whether this will be one of the new breed's crowning year.

It is safe to say that they will all be aiming to make that dream a step nearer reality by cementing their place in the Play-Offs with a win at 'The World's Fastest Half Mile' circuit this weekend.

For everyone's sake, let's just hope that the actual winner is not the weather.