By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
BRISTOL, Tenn. – The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway changed the landscape of the playoff bubble.
Continued woes for both Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson saw the duo slip further down the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings with just two races remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez capitalized on the misfortunes of their competitors.
Johnson’s troubles started 80 laps into the 500-lap race. A cut tire for Austin Dillon left the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 nowhere to go. The damage repairs left Johnson two laps down. It was a hole that the seven-time champion could not climb out of.
“After the first incident, it was just too hard to make up ground after that,” Johnson explained. “We just had so much damage. To come back 19th is respectable. The other part is that we had to get off strategy because we lost two laps.
“So, the first two-thirds of the race, we were running old tires against the field a lot of the time trying to get laps back. It was just one of those nights.”
Johnson ran into further trouble on lap 373 when he got collected in a multi-car accident. Contact with the David Ragan sliced open the Hendrick Motorsports’ passenger door like a sardine can. The Cliff Daniels-led team replaced the energy absorbing foam, allowing Johnson to salvage a 19th-place finish.
Bowyer, meanwhile, fell down the points standings despite a seventh-place finish. A spin after a failed pass on Quin Houff left the Stewart-Haas Racing driver out of position to earn stage points. With his teammate Suarez and fellow Ford Performance driver Newman scoring stage points, he fell out of the top-16 in points.
“It’s a short track, you’re worried about keeping out of the fence, keeping up with the racetrack, adjustments, and traffic,” Bowyer explained. “We just got to do what we got to do. Let’s go race. We just have to perform the way we’ve got to perform, do our thing.
“It’s just mistakes. If the driver doesn’t make mistakes, a bad call, or get caught on the bad side of a pit stop, wiped out. Things are not going our way. A lot of them can be helped, just like tonight. It wasn’t a lack of trying on anybody’s part. We just had a mishap.”
At the end of the second stage, Suarez and Newman used strategy to earn stage points. Staying out on the quick three-lap run to end the stage, the duo finished second and third respectively. The stage points they earned padded their gap over the cutoff.
Newman now has a 14-point gap over Bowyer. Suarez meanwhile is just two points ahead of his teammate.