DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — One of the most unpredictable events of the season awaits NASCAR K&N Pro Series East teams when they return to Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway for the Zombie Auto 125 on Saturday, April 22.
There have been only five previous K&N Pro Series races at Bristol, a longtime fixture for NASCAR’s top national series, but the track has already produced its share of stories. Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr. won the inaugural K&N Pro Series East event at the track in 2012; local favorite Chad Finchum won in his season debut last spring. Dylan Kwasniewski won during his championship season in 2013, while series veteran Eddie MacDonald won a year later, driving for a single car team competing in a partial schedule.
Predicting success at Bristol is not easy. Just ask Jesse Little, who won the pole in 2015 but was forced out of the race at the halfway mark and finished 25th. Last year’s pole winner, Harrison Burton, was out of the race before the quarter pole, sidelined by engine woes on Lap 26.
Adding to the drama this weekend is the fact that none of the top five drivers in the current K&N Pro Series East standings have a strong history at Bristol. Current point leader Ronnie Bassett Jr. hasn’t finished worse than second in two races thus far this season, but he’s never finished higher than 15th in his three career starts on the high-banked concrete oval. The four drivers behind him — Burton, Todd Gilliland, Hunter Baize and Reid Wilson — have combined for just one top 10 finish at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile”, a ninth-place effort from Gilliland a year ago.
A strong run this weekend could create some separation at the top of the standings, where the five drivers are separated by only 20 points.
RACE: Zombie Auto 125
PLACE: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee
DATE: Saturday, April 22
TIME: 4 p.m. ET
AIRDATE: NBCSN, Thursday, April 27 at 11 p.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: .533-mile high-banked concrete oval
2016 WINNER: Chad Finchum
2016 POLE WINNER: Harrison Burton
EVENT SCHEDULE: Friday, April 21 – Garage opens: 7 a.m.; Practice: 2-3:25 p.m.; Group qualifying: 6 p.m. Saturday, April 22 — Garage opens: 11:30 a.m.; Driver autograph session: 11:30 a.m.; Zombie Auto 125: 4 p.m.
EVENT HASHTAG: #ZombieAuto125
The Race: The Zombie Auto 125 will be the third of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 36 cars, including provisionals. The first 32 cars will qualify through the group qualifying process while the remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 125 laps, spanning 66.625 miles, and will be run in two segments with a five-minute break at or near the conclusion of Lap 70.
The Track: Opened in 1961 and hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on July 30, 1961 won by Jack Smith. It was originally names Bristol International Speedway until 1978 and was then renamed Bristol International Raceway until 1996 when it became Bristol Motor Speedway. The Thunder Valley track was .500-miles from 1961-69 before becoming .527-miles for one year in 1969. In 1970, it became the familiar .533-mile track seen today. The concrete oval has 600-foot straightaways with five to nine degrees of banking on the front stretch and four to eight degrees on the backstretch. The turns are progressively banked from 24 to 28 degrees and the racing surface s 40 feet wide.
Race Winners: There have been five different winners in the five previous K&N East races at Bristol.
Pole Winners: In the five previous events, there have been five different pole winners.
Zombie Auto 125 Notes:
He’s Back: Two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ryan Truex returns to the K&N Pro Series East for the first time since 2010 to compete in the Zombie Auto 125. It will be his first series start at Bristol Motor Speedway. The brother of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr., Truex won five of his 22 starts over the course of the K&N Pro Series East’s 2009 and 2010 seasons, when he became the first driver since Andy Santerre (2002-2005) to win consecutive titles. Truex will be driving the No. 11 Otics Chevrolet for Hattori Racing Enterprises, the same organization fielding his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series efforts this season. Truex has never started a K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol, but he does have a career-best finish of 10th at the track in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012.
Return Engagement: Veteran of nearly 200 career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts, Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Massachusetts, will make his season debut at Bristol. MacDonald, who won at the track in 2014, has run a partial K&N Pro Series schedule since the end of the 2013 season when he finished fifth in the final standings to cap a run of six straight championship finishes inside the top 10. In fact, MacDonald has finished in the top 10 in the final series standings in eight of his last nine full-time seasons dating back to 2003. MacDonald is the only driver to have competed in all five previous races at Bristol, entering this weekend with four straight top 10 finishes at the track.
Going Green: There might not be anybody in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East garage this weekend with more Bristol experience than Mark Green. The Owensboro, Kentucky, native is the crew chief for Chase Cabre’s No. 4 UTI/NTI Toyota. Green made more than 300 starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, with 22 of those starts occurring at Bristol, where he had a career-best finish of 13th (twice).
Redemption Tour: Harrison Burton would like to grab some redemption at Bristol this weekend. After winning the pole a year ago but having to retire from the race early due to engine issues, Burton would like to find a way back to the front in the Zombie Auto 125. Burton joins Ronnie Bassett Jr. as the only driver to finish in the top five in both races this season, with a pole at New Smyrna and back-to-back fourth-place finishes to open the year. Burton’s father, Jeff Burton, earned one win and 15 top 10 finishes in 41 career starts at Bristol in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series during his own driving career.
NASCAR Home Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series joins all three NASCAR national series at Bristol this weekend. It’s the first of five races on the 2017 schedule that will serve as companion events to NASCAR national series races, with other races coming at New Hampshire, Iowa, Watkins Glen and Dover.
-NASCAR Home Tracks Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com