Drivers Head To Bristol With Playoff Spots Up For Grabs And Several Recent Driver Feuds Still Simmering
The intensity and drama are expected to be at an all-time high under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway for Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, where several Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are fighting for their Playoff lives and several others are, well, literally ready to start fighting.
Who knows what might break out when the world's fastest stock car racers take to the all-concrete high-banked bullring for the third-to-last regular season race before the Playoffs begin. Several drivers have been getting chippy with one another in recent weeks. There are still several feuds simmering following on-track incidents at Watkins Glen two weeks ago.
Could tight and tough Bristol, which was praised as the "Holy Grail of Short Tracks" by last year's winner Kurt Busch, be the place where some of those paybacks get issued?
For sure all eyes will be on Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson should they ever get close to one another on track, as well as Bristol dominator Kyle Busch, who has 22 career victories here including a win at April's Food City 500, should he roll up behind his two fresh-faced rivals, Bubba Wallace and William Byron. Busch tangled with both of them in separate incidents at The Glen.
Feuds aside, there will also be plenty to watch regarding the NASCAR Playoffs.
This race will certainly play a critical role in who makes it and who doesn't. Currently there are four drivers battling for the final two playoff spots. After Michigan, Ryan Newman is holding down the 15th spot, while Clint Bowyer is anchoring the 16th position. On the outside looking in are Daniel Suarez and Johnson, who are 17th and 18th respectively, with only a few points separating them from those final two Playoff starting spots.
A strong run at Michigan elevated Suarez's chances and moved him up and onto the bubble. Johnson, meanwhile, has faltered in recent weeks. His run-in with Blaney in New York and bad luck at Michigan where an early scrape with the outside retaining wall pushed him to a 30th place finish compounded to knock him 12 points out of the top-16. Could Johnson's impressive streak of never missing the NASCAR Playoffs end this season?
"We have to rally on," said Johnson, a two-time Bristol winner, but never at the Night Race. "These guys are doing an amazing job. Just keep digging. Just fight hard for every point."
A driver who is feeling very little pressure heading to Bristol is points leader Kyle Busch, who is solidly locked into the Playoffs with four victories this season in his Joe Gibbs Racing machine. And given Busch's stellar record at Bristol, many fans almost expect him to win there every time.
While the younger Busch brother has been tough to beat at Bristol in recent seasons, he said it wasn't always that way. Like many of his peers, he admitted that figuring out the challenge that is Bristol can be a daunting task.
"It's a fun place," Kyle Busch said. "My first time there didn't end up well. It was in a Busch Series test back in my Hendrick Motorsports days. We had a throttle hang, and I drove it up in the Turn 1 fence about halfway through the test. That wasn't too much fun. We were able to go back for the race and I think we ran second or third. Ever since then, it's always been a really cool place. I struggled there the first few times in the Cup car. Just with the more horsepower and trying to throw the thing around is hard. What I was doing with the Xfinity car wasn't quite working; you had to have a little bit more finesse. Once I figured that out, it's been pretty good."
Should he win to sweep both Bristol Cup races this year, Busch could make some Bristol history: a victory would put him in a very exclusive nine-win club that includes Dale Earnhardt Sr., Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace.
Speaking of history, another moment in Bristol Motor Speedway lore will take place when the green flag drops for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series during Thursday night's UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics. That will be the first official NASCAR Playoff race to be conducted at The Last Great Colosseum. Certainly sparks are guaranteed to fly and tempers will flare as the eight locked in drivers battle in the post-season. The winner will secure a guaranteed playoff spot for the next round, which starts at Talladega in October.
The Truck Playoff race will give Bristol fans a sneak preview for what to expect when the track hosts Playoff rounds for all three of NASCAR's major touring series Sept. 17-19, 2020. The Cup Series playoff race next year also will be a playoff cut-off race and promises to add even more drama to the situation.
The Truck Series drivers who are playoff-eligible include defending champ Brett Moffitt, who is also the points leader, regular season points champ Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Tyler Ankrum. A few talented Truck Series stars are bitter from not making the post season and will still be gunning for a victory at Bristol, including Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland and Sheldon Creed.
Meanwhile, the Xfinity Series drivers are looking to close out their regular season with a strong showing at Bristol in Friday night's Food City 300. Bristol is one of five regular season Xfinity races remaining on the schedule before post season racing starts at Richmond, Va. in mid-September.
The exciting series has had a "Big 3" of its own this year, headed by points leader and defending champ Tyler Reddick, and two five-time season winners, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer. Those three will certainly factor into the mix, but will be challenged by three Cup Series regulars - Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Erik Jones - along with several other Xfinity regulars, including Justin Allgaier, two-time recent winner Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Justin Haley, among others.
A pit full of NASCAR's next generation of drivers will battle during the Bush's Beans 150 K&N Series Pro East race, the first of Thursday night's double-header. Young Sam Mayer turned heads here in April when he dominated the Zombie Auto 150 and he will go for a Bristol sweep in the K&N Series at the controls of his No. 21 Chevy. However, he will be challenged by an all-star cast of talented drivers including former NHRA Pro Stock champ Tanner Gray, two-time season winner Hailie Deegan, third-generation racer Ty Gibbs, Brittney Zamora, Chase Cabre, Derek Kraus, Max McLaughlin, Ruben Garcia Jr., Drew Dollar and many more.
In addition to cheering on their favorite drivers this weekend, Bristol Motor Speedway fans will definitely want to take advantage of so many activities to make a complete weekend of family fun. There will be great video entertainment provided by Colossus TV, the world's largest center-hung video screen, premium VIP experiences like the Chairman's Experience, tailgating, a visit to the Kids Zone, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.
If you want to bring the entire clan out to experience the amazing fun that is America's Night Race, Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for families to enjoy the weekend. Kids' tickets (12 and under) are free and adult tickets are $35 for Thursday's (Aug. 15) UNOH 200 and Bush's Beans 150 doubleheader. On Friday (Aug. 16), kids' tickets are free and adult tickets start at $35 for the Food City 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race and Pinty's Qualifying for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
On Saturday night (August 17) adult tickets start at $70 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race and kids' tickets are $10. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office is the only authorized location that can produce the free kids' tickets.
A two-day weekend package is also available through the BMS ticket office, beginning at just $95. Visit BristolTix.com or call 423-BRISTOL.