BRISTOL, Tenn. — Three 500-mile races are in the books this season, but NASCAR Sprint Cup newcomers face 500 laps on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway the will feel entirely different.
Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Brian Scott each will make their first Cup start at this high-banked track, while Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher will be making their second start each.
Sixteen-second laps, plenty of G forces, and a warm day — the temperature is expected to reach 76 degrees — could tax drivers.
Elliott has an idea of what to expect. Bristol made an imprint on him years ago when he saw how exhausted his father was after some races.
“I always remember this being such a tough race,’’ said Elliott, who qualified 19th for Sunday’s race. “I remember him getting out of the car here and just being so worn out, so dehydrated and hot. This race always took such a physical toll on him. I can remember guys getting out of the cars here and having to have oxygen after the races.’’
While they might have more conveniences than Elliott and his generation, Cup newcomers still have to learn how to handle the physical and mental elements of longer races.
“I think that’s still part of my learning curve, is learning how to survive both physically and mentally through these long races,’’ said Dillon, who finished 20th last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and is driving in both the Xfinity and Cup races this weekend.
He credits mountain biking for helping with his conditioning. Elliott said he began mountain biking within the last month to increase his cardio program.
“As you run these races, they are so long,’’ said Elliott, who finished a career-high fifth at Texas last week. “You want to try to give it your all throughout the race, but the most important part … is the end of the race and trying to be around at the end and give yourself a chance. If you are not both physically and mentally there 100 percent at lap 500 or however long the race might be, you are not doing anybody any favors and that is not fair to your group.’’
Elliott got a sense of the challenges of long races last year while running five Cup events. He ran all but one lap in the Coca-Cola 600 and competed in the Southern 500, falling out after 227 of 367 laps because of an accident.
The 600 wasn’t the most taxing event for Elliott since moving to Cup, though. That race was last month’s 400-mile event on the bumpy surface at Auto Club Speedway.
“That seemed like a long race that day for whatever reason,’’ said Elliott, who finished sixth that day. “I guess it’s just perspective and how you look at your race day and how things are going too. That makes a big difference.”
Blaney has tried several different methods to be stronger mentally at the end of races.
“It’s hard to work on, it’s very tough to try to do,’’ he said. “Trust me, I’m trying to find ways to get better at it and try to learn how to be mentally tough, whether that’s talking to other athletes and how they prepare.’’
He’s trained some with Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams to become a better driver.
“He kind of told me his preparation,’’ said Blaney, who starts 18th Sunday, best among the new drivers. “The NFL is a pretty big mental sport. He had some really good pointers and I kind of stepped back and looked at it and it made sense. Stuff like that and trying to get advice from other people and how they try to work on it is the biggest thing.’’
It can mean the difference between having a good race and bad one.