Chris Buescher’s victory in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race last season seemingly came out of nowhere. At the time, the RFK Racing driver wasn’t a Playoff contender and certainly wasn’t on many people’s radar as a driver who could tame the famed all-concrete high banks.

What a difference a year makes. Following a victory July 30 in Richmond, Virginia, Buescher will return to The Last Great Colosseum in September looking to defend his victory from one year ago as one of the 16 Playoff eligible drivers in the Cup Series.

The talented Texan, who proclaimed his longtime affection for Bristol Motor Speedway last year in Victory Lane, will certainly be among the handful of favorites for the Sept. 16 running of the Round of 16 elimination race at one of NASCAR’s ultra-challenging crown jewels.

Before his win Sunday at the controls of his No. 17 machine, Buescher was trending toward a Playoff spot via points. He entered the weekend in 13th with four more races until the end of the Regular Season. Now, in a flash, he’s become the season’s 13th different winner and a lock for the Playoffs.

Now, he can exhale, at least for a brief moment.

“(Winning) means we don't have to talk about points anymore; I love that,” said Buescher, who charged to the front at Richmond from a 26th place starting point and ultimately led 88 laps to take his third career Cup victory.

“That's our sport. Winning fixes everything,” Buescher continued. “It fixes the points talk. It fixes morale. It fixes bad weekends. Everything can be changed by winning. From that standpoint, it's awesome that we are in the Playoffs. That was part of our goal at the beginning of the season. At RFK we talked about winning races, making the Playoffs, and being able to be a contender in the Playoffs. We don't want to be a placeholder by any means either. When I look at the races we have in the first half of the Playoffs especially, I feel really confident that we can be a contender and we can move forward.”

Buescher has to feel some sense of comfort knowing Bristol is in the first group of Playoff races; a track where he’s proven he can win. Last September at Bristol, after holding off a determined Chase Elliott in a thrilling final 50 laps to snap a 222-race winless streak, Buescher got emotional in BMS Victory Lane talking about how much he adores the iconic Northeast Tennessee bullring.

“This has been No. 1 on my list for a really long time,” Buescher said. “I actually love this racetrack. I’ll take this win over a Daytona 500, a Coke 600; this is my big race, right here. I don’t know if I believe this yet.”

“This place has that special feel,” Buescher continued. “The excitement I got walking through that tunnel yesterday and seeing concrete, clean concrete, was really big. It’s always special coming here. Fans were jacked up, and we had fantastic weather. Fans showed up in huge numbers, and it was great to see the fans packing the stands here at Bristol again. All that just adds to this being my favorite racetrack. And I’m not saying that because I’m sitting here at Bristol. I’ve got in trouble at a lot of different racetracks for saying that on their stages beforehand and gotten yelled at, but it’s the truth.

“This is the one, the one we’ve been looking forward to for a really long time, and it’s just a special place, unlike anywhere we go.”

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race weekend features three nights of electrifying NASCAR Playoff action under the lights including Saturday night’s Cup Playoff race, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio). The weekend also includes the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Bristol’s high banks in the Food City 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Friday night, Sept. 15 (7:30 p.m., USA Network and PRN Radio). The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will get the fun started on Thursday night, Sept. 14, with the running of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics (8 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio). The ARCA Menards Series will open Thursday’s racing to make it a doubleheader night with the Bush’s Beans 200 (6 p.m., FS1).

Off the track there’s tons to do during your Bristol visit with lots of activities available in the BMS Fan Zone and BMS Fan Midway. Kenny Wallace and John Roberts will host Trackside Live at the Food City Fan Zone Stage on Saturday at 4 p.m. where drivers and other newsmakers will be interviewed. Country music band Midland will perform the pre-race concert Saturday at 5:30 p.m. to get the fans revved up for the traditional driver introductions, where each driver enters the stadium to a favorite song or music. There will be post-race entertainment on Thursday and Friday, as DJ Sterl the Pearl will host the world famous Foam Party after the Thursday night double-header, and country music singer Tim Dugger will perform after Friday night’s Food City 300.  

To purchase tickets for any or all of these events at Bristol Motor Speedway, please visit the Bristol Motor Speedway website or call the BMS Ticket Sales Center at (866) 415-4158.