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Bristol Preview: Hendrick Prepared for Thunder Valley

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 24, 2006) – Bristol. In NASCAR-speak, the word could well be an epithet, said quickly, forcefully and, sometimes, with obvious disgust—Bristol.

Fans love it, a lot of drivers, well, they may not hate it, but they certainly do have some mixed emotions about the .533-mile pinball machine known as Bristol Motor Speedway. Let’s just say most drivers seem to have something of a love-hate relationship with the place.

“I love Bristol,” says Kyle Busch, driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolets. “You just have to leave your emotions at home, as well as your pride. You’ve always got people around you, so it’s very difficult to get clean race track to race on. You’ve just got to pay attention and hope for the best.
“You’ve got to expect the unexpected at Bristol.”

Busch’s teammate Brian Vickers, who drives the No. 25 GMAC Chevrolets, shares his teammate’s slightly conflicted emotions about Thunder Valley.

“I love Bristol,” he says “It’s a fun, fast race track, but it’s a beast for sure with 43 other cars out there.  The racing can be rough and tough.”

Notice that Hendricks Motorsports’ two youngest drivers each started his assessment of the track with “I love Bristol” before then acknowledging the difficulties of the place. Call it the innocence of youth, because their teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson seem to be a bit more balanced in their opinions.

“Bristol is a tough place,” says Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolets. “A lot can happen. I absolutely stink there in qualifying, so I hope no one reads too much into the qualifying routine.

“Bristol … it’s a place … you love to go there and you love the excitement, but you’re happy to leave. So much can happen. I’m excited to see what the track is like and what’s going to take place—I’m excited in one light, but I’m also nervous on the other side.”

Leave it to team elder statesman Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolets and a veteran of 26 races at the track, to provide the least emotional, most pragmatic view of the upcoming race.

“We need to take advantage of our strengths and post good finishes,” says Gordon. “In our sport, there will be [bad] days, but you have to limit them.”

Limiting damage at Bristol is, of course, a fairly relative concept. But of Hendrick’s four drivers, Gordon has had the most success achieving that modest-sounding goal: In those 26 starts at the track, he has five wins, 10 top-fives and 16 top-10s.

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