By Seth Livingstone
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Bristol Motor Speedway's spring race weekend will move from March to April 18-19 for the 2015 season.
The announcement was made Friday by NASCAR vice president and chief communication officer Brett Jewkes, who also said the complete 2015 NASCAR schedules for all three national touring series will be announced Tuesday on Fox Sports 1's Race Hub and on NBC Sports Network's NASCAR America show.
The April 18-19 weekend, an open date on the 2014 schedule, would fall between races at Darlington and Richmond on the existing schedule and is designed to provide better spring weather for fans.
"This is a great day in the history of Bristol Motor Speedway thanks to our passionate fans," track general manager Jerry Caldwell said. "They've repeatedly asked that we be moved to a more traditional spring date.
Food City president and CEO Steve Smith, the race sponsor, said, "The April date better accommodates our guests traveling in their RVs from northern climates and provides our loyal Bristol fans with the best possible Food City 500 experience. It's been a tough last few years with some of the inconsistent weather we've had."
Jewkes suggested that the 2015 schedule in its entirety will be more fan-friendly.
"There will be some good changes to the schedule that will benefit all of the stakeholders and our great fans," he said.
ON THE BUBBLE, BIFFLE FOCUSES ON KEEPING CHASE POSITION
No driver sits more squarely on NASCAR's Chase Grid bubble than Greg Biffle.
Although winless this season, if the Chase were to begin today, Biffle would be part of the championship field, based on points.
But the Roush Fenway Racing driver is perched precariously at 16th on the 16-driver grid, just nine points ahead of Kasey Kahne and 22 ahead of Austin Dillon.
A victory by a still-winless driver in any of the next three races, including Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway could bump Biffle from Chase contender to Chase observer.
If Biffle has anything going for him, it's momentum with top-10 finishes in the last three Cup races.
"We've felt pressure all year because we haven't performed to our standards at Roush Fenway," Biffle said, displaying the team's new Ortho fire ant paint scheme that will debut next week at Atlanta. "But we've gotten much better in the last six weeks. I think we've turned the corner.
"We're seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, so it's so much easier to show up at the racetrack and compete. We have a lot of confidence going into these last three races."
Despite six top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes, Biffle has never won a Sprint Cup race at Bristol.
"This is a tough place -- a really, really tough place," he said. "We feel like we run in the top 10 about every time we're here."
Truth be told, Biffle has only one top-10 finish in his last six Cup races at Bristol (a ninth in last year's night race). That makes for a fine line between racing for points and racing for a win, given his lack of security in the point standings.
"You take chances and (make) passes and all the things you can do, but at the same time, we know we're on that bubble in points," Biffle said. "I feel it's gonna take a win, still, to get in this thing and that's what we're going for."
Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said he expected Ortho to be the primary sponsor for about half of next year's races. He noted that Roush Fenway was in discussions with Scotts Lawn Care (an RFR sponsor from 2005 to 2011) to bring Ortho aboard, even before Biffle's longtime sponsor 3M announced it was moving to Hendrick Motorsports and Jeff Gordon for 2015.
Mark Martin left Roush after winning six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races with Scotts on the hood. Carl Edwards, who won the 2007 Nationwide Series crown with Scotts as sponsor, will be long gone from Roush Fenway next season. Biffle, second in the final 2005 Cup standings, has decided to remain loyal to Roush Fenway, despite its struggles in 2014.
"It's easy to jump ship when the cycle is not in your favor," said Biffle, whose 3M car sports a special Hire Our Heroes military paint scheme this week. "I know everybody (at RFR) is working hard. We have the resources, and with a lot of people behind the organization, I know that we could get back to winning races. I think Michigan (last week) was proof of that.
"We didn't win, but it was a 'win' for our organization. Ricky Stenhouse had a fast car. We had a fast car. We're making improvements and we're on our way to getting back to winning races."
As if to prove the point, Stenhouse posted the fastest lap in Friday's 50-minute final practice.
JGR FINDS NEEDED SPEED
Finishing 38th in two of the last three events, Matt Kenseth expressed concern that his team's performance needs to improve in a hurry to move from pretender to contender status. And the same can be said for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch
"My confidence isn't nearly as high with how we're running at this point this year (compared with) last year," Kenseth said. "We've just been off on speed a little bit, so certainly, with only three weeks to go to the Chase, even if all three of us get in, we realize that we all have to be running better to have a legitimate shot at winning it. We're all working really hard at that."
Kenseth and his teammates showed that missing speed in Friday's first practice. Although he finished 15th, Kenseth had the fastest lap on the board late in the two-hour session. Hamlin (120.504 mph) ended up second to Kyle Larson (131.083) and Busch was seventh fastest.
Kenseth remains the top-ranked driver in points (13th) without a victory. But he doesn't equate making the Chase with being a title contender.
"Just because you're in the Chase doesn't mean you have a chance to win a championship," said Kenseth, who maintains a cushion of 30 points on Ryan Newman, 37 points on Clint Bowyer and 49 on former teammate Biffle. "There's going to be a lot of cars that get in the Chase that aren't going to have a prayer of winning the championship.
"That's the way it's always been, and with 16 cars instead of 12 (qualifying for the Chase), there's going to be even more of them."
Larson's Target Chevrolet was also fast in the second practice, winding up fourth on the chart behind Stenhouse (131.048), Jimmie Johnson and Kahne.
Richard Petty, who made a record 60 starts at Bristol, took a break from Friday's activities to celebrate 40 years of STP sponsorship. The King posed for a commemorative "Class of 2014" photo with media members. ... Ryan Truex, medically cleared to race after last weekend's crash at Michigan left him with concussion-like symptoms, was 36th fastest in Friday's first practice at Bristol. ... David Stremme crashed his Little Joe's Autos Chevrolet in the first practice when his throttle stuck. He did not get back on the track in either practice.