Playoff elimination chaos to unfold during America's Night Race; New start time is 6:30 p.m.
Schedule Updates: NASCAR today announced that the Bass Pro Shops Night Race will now start at 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday – advancing one hour from the original 7:30 p.m. ET start time – due to forecasted inclement weather. Bristol Motor Speedway parking lots will open at 11 a.m. ET. Grandstand gates will open at 1 p.m. ET and the NASCAR Cup Series garage will open at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The Fan Track Walk will start at 2 p.m. Trackside Live with hosts Kenny Wallace and John Roberts at the Food City Fan Zone Stage now starts at 3 p.m. The Midland pre-race concert will now begin at 4:15 p.m. and Bristol's tradition-rich driver introductions led by the great Michael Buffer will start at 5:45 p.m.
* * *
As usual, there are plenty of intriguing storylines heading into Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway, but the main theme will once again be who advances in the NASCAR Playoffs and who doesn’t.
With its challenging all-concrete high banks, the .533-mile bullring nestled in the rolling hills of Northeast Tennessee that’s been christened as the “Holy Grail of Short Tracks” stands ready to deliver in its important role as the Round of 16 elimination race.
When the checkered flag falls, four drivers are going to be disappointed that they have been eliminated from championship contention and the few who are able to survive 500 laps of mayhem and chaos when the green flag drops at the new race start time of 6:30 p.m. for America’s Night Race (USA Network and PRN Radio) will celebrate their advancement to NASCAR’s Round of 12.
Defending race winner Chris Buescher, who won here last year as a non-Playoff contender, will try to repeat by feeling the full effects of Playoff pressure. Buescher won three times this year and hopes to continue his breakout season and reignite his love affair with the World’s Fastest Half-Mile by scoring another victory here at the controls of his No. 17 RFK machine.
Buescher isn’t taking anything for granted. He knows that he’ll need to put on his best game face to accomplish his mission.
“We want to come in to Bristol with guns blazing,” Buescher said. “This night race at Bristol has been the top of my bucket list for a really long time and to get that one last year was really special.”
The Texas driver said when he raced in the Xinfity Series at Bristol he would stay over and watch the Cup race from the grandstands, especially the Night Race. For him to now be coming into the arena as the defending winner and a Playoff contender during the Night Race, is a bit surreal for him.
“Bristol is my favorite race track, so I’m always wanting to come to Bristol no matter what,” Buescher said. “To come back as the defending winner of the Night Race, we know we’re going to be fast. RFK always brings really fast Ford Mustangs to that race track, so I feel we will be in a really good spot.”
While Buescher is the defending winner, the most recent winner at Bristol came in April on the dirt surface and now Christopher Bell has an opportunity this weekend to become the only driver to sweep Cup races at Bristol in a single season by winning on both dirt and concrete.
“We were in a great position to race for a win last year (at the Night Race) before I had a flat tire,” Bell said. “So I would expect us to have a shot at it. But yeah, that would be pretty historic to be able to win there on dirt and concrete in the same year.”
Bell, who is currently 10th in the standings, 13 points above the cutline, will be battling with a host of talented drivers to claim those final few transfer spots to the Round of 12, including past Cup champions Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., among others.
“With it being a cut-off race, it makes it just a lot more stressful,” Bell said. “I don’t think that we approach the race any differently, but it certainly is a very important race. This Bristol race in the fall it’s a very, very iconic event, whether it’s in the playoffs or not. If we go out there and do what we’re capable of, you know, we don’t have to do anything special and we’ll be in good shape.”
Logano, the defending Cup Series champion, is a two-time winner of the Night Race and he says winning the crown jewel event is one of the best experiences for a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. He is looking forward to a wild night on Saturday.
“It’s just something special about winning at Bristol,” Logano said. “The fans make it special because you have that stadium environment. It is the one place where you can really hear the fans yelling and screaming, cheering or booing. When you’re under the lights, you see all the flashbulbs and you can hear everybody. Being able to put your car up on top of the media center there for Victory Lane is probably the coolest thing. You can do a burnout up the ramp, it’s just so cool to win there.”
And finally, NASCAR legend Kevin Harvick will be making his final Night Race start in his No. 4 SHR Ford as a full-time Cup driver. Harvick is a three-time Bristol winner and two of those came in America's Night Race.
Harvick is on the cutline in 12th place and will need a strong run to keep his Playoff chances alive. He is well-aware of the chaos that can erupt at Thunder Valley at any time and also enjoys the overall atmosphere that the race produces.
“Bristol, the Night Race, especially, is a place that just has a special feel,” Harvick said. “Being a part of that event for a long time just gets you jacked up as a driver. It’s just a very intense place to race. It’s an intense place just to make laps, honestly.”
To purchase tickets, visit the Bristol Motor Speedway website or call (866) 415-4158.