Bell wins pole for America's Night Race
Christopher Bell won his third straight pole position of the season Friday and will start from the top spot in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bell, driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, turned a lap of 126.997 mph (15.174 seconds) around the .533-mile concrete oval for his fifth pole position of the season and ninth of his career.
Bell, who won the Bristol Dirt Race this spring, has two top-5 and four top-10 finishes in seven Bristol Cup Series starts.
“I just have really, really great Camrys to drive,” Bell said. “This is my favorite race of the year – the Bristol Night Race. It’s the most intense race of the year. I tell everyone this needs to be on their bucket list.”
Bell and Denny Hamlin will make up the front row in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (6:30 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio). The race’s start time was bumped up one hour earlier Friday due to forecasted inclement weather late Saturday.
Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race is the centerpiece of The Last Great Colosseum’s NASCAR weekend, which marks the first time Bristol has hosted playoff rounds in all thee of NASCAR’s top series.
It’s also the first cutoff race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with the number of championship contenders dropping from 16 to 12 following Saturday’s checkered flag.
With earlier playoff victories, Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick have already secured advancement to the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr., the Cup Series’ regular season champion, is seven points below Kevin Harvick in 12th place, the last spot for advancement.
“We just had two terrible races,” said Truex, who will start fifth on Saturday. “You can’t afford to have two bad races. Hopefully [Saturday] night goes better. It’s a terrible spot to be in.”
Bubba Wallace is 19 points behind the final spot, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. trailing by 22 points back and Michael McDowell 40 points behind.
Among other championship contenders, William Byron will start third, Brad Keselowski will start sixth and defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano will start 28th.
Bell and defending Night Race champion Chris Buescher are 13 points above the cutline for advancement.
“This is my favorite race track,” said Buescher, who will start 20th. “Our cars are always competitive here. There’s a lot riding on this race. You have to go out and run 100 percent. We need to race up front and grab stage points early.
“[This race] hits a little different for me. The Bristol Night Race is at the top of my bucket list to me. Now that we got one, we want another one.”
Larson, who was quickest in practice, wobbled in the middle of a turn with a left rear tire issue and qualified last in 36th.
Bristol’s Cup Series qualifying record is held by Ryan Blaney, who turned a lap of 132.075 mph (14.528 seconds) in 2019. Blaney, also a championship contender, will start 11th on Saturday.
“We’re 25 points to the good,” Blaney said earlier this week. “Twenty-five points can go away just like that if you have an issue early in the race. I feel like you can never really be too safe.”
The remaining NASCAR Playoff Weekend schedule includes:
- Today: Food City 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race (7:30 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio)
- Saturday, Sept. 16: Bass Pro Shops Night Race (6:30 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio).
Off-track activities for the weekend include:
- Saturday, Sept. 16: Kenny Wallace and John Roberts host Trackside Live (Food City Fan Zone Stage, 3 p.m.)
- Saturday, Sept. 16: Midland pre-race concert (4:15 p.m.)
- Saturday, Sept. 16: BMS tradition-rich driver intros with host Michael Buffer (5:45 p.m.)
See a full entertainment schedule on www.BristolMotorSpeedway.com.
To purchase tickets, visit www.BristolMotorSpeedway.com or call (866) 415-4158.