By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After running on the dirt at Bristol earlier this year, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the track we all know and love this weekend for Saturday night’s running of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race and the first elimination race of the Playoffs.
Racing at Bristol is always intense, but when the lights go down for the night race, the intensity gets cranked to 11. The aggressiveness that the drivers will show on the high-banked bullring that is called “The Last Great Colosseum” to take home the coveted Bristol trophy and the chance to wield the gladiator sword in Victory Lane illustrates why this race is on every fan’s bucket list, because it is a must-see event from start to finish.
Bristol is a track that makes it easy to get caught up in someone else’s mess and if that were to happen to any of the drivers on the bubble, their chances to continue on in the race for the championship could go right down the drain.
Just one driver, Cristopher Bell, is safe Saturday night, with 11 others hoping to be on the right side of the cut-off line when the checkered flag falls.
By the Numbers
What: Bass Pro Shops Night Race, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 29 of 36
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee (Opened: 1960)
When: Saturday, September 17
TV/Radio: USA Network, 7:30 pm ET/ PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 0.533-mile concrete oval
Banking: Turns: 30 to 34 degrees; Straights: 4 to 9 degrees
Race Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 125 laps each, Final stage – 250 laps
April 2022 Race Winner (Dirt): Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 11th, one lap led)
September 2021 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started fifth, 175 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (14.568 seconds, 131.713 mph – 4/5/2019)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Bristol Motor Speedway:
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 102.4
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 102.4
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 98.8
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 97.6
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Petty GMS Chevrolet – 94.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 92.4
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 91.9
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 91.0
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 90.0
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 83.4
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings (One Race Remaining in First Round):
- Christopher Bell (Advanced to next round on points)
- William Byron (+48 points over cut-off)
- Denny Hamlin (+47)
- Joey Logano (+40)
- Ryan Blaney (+36)
- Alex Bowman (+30)
- Chase Elliott (+28)
- Kyle Larson (+27)
- Ross Chastain (+26)
- Daniel Suarez (+6)
- Tyler Reddick (+2)
- Austin Cindric (+2)
13. Kyle Busch (-2)
14. Austin Dillon (-3)
15. Chase Briscoe (-9)
16. Kevin Harvick (-35)
From the Driver’s Seat
“I think Bristol (Motor Speedway) is definitely higher paced, higher intensity and more chaotic than any other track we go to,” said defending race winner Kyle Larson. “I’m used to high-intensity racing almost every week, so maybe the action ‘slows down’ a little bit for me at Bristol. I guarantee it doesn’t feel slow in the cockpit. It feels crazy and chaotic, and that’s why I love it.”
Last Year’s Result
When the NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Bristol Motor Speedway, it’s almost a guarantee that the night will end with bent sheet metal and hurt feelings.
Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race lived up to that hype as the closing laps featured a run-in between Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott that spilled over after the race into not one, but two heated conversations between the two drivers.
Everything started with contact between Harvick and Elliott as they were racing for the lead with 35 laps to go. Coming through Turn 4, Harvick’s car washed up the track and bounced off of the left side of Elliott’s car. Though Harvick was able to continue on in the battle for the lead with Kyle Larson, the contact had cut down Elliott’s left front tire, forcing him to pit road.
Needless to say, Elliott was furious and made his feelings known to Harvick when he returned to the track, chasing down the leaders and taking a side swipe at Harvick as he passed him on the way to getting one of his laps back.
From that point on, Elliott ran right in front of Harvick and didn’t cut him any slack, impeding his forward progress at every turn. With Harvick having to race harder to try and get around Elliott, Larson was able to take advantage of the situation, passing Harvick for the lead and the eventual win.
While Larson celebrated another win, the action was all but over for Harvick and Elliott as they faced off after the race to express their displeasure with each other.
“That was an awesome race,” Larson said. “It was so cool to be able to race there for the win. Obviously Harvick and Chase got together. Chase was upset. Kind of held him up. It got Harvick having to move around and use his tires up off the bottom.
“I started to get some dive-ins working off of two, got a big run, decided to pull the trigger, slide him, squeeze him a little bit. Then he had me jacked up down the frontstretch. It was wild.
“But had my hands full. Thanks to Valvoline, everybody that helps on this Hendrick Motorsports car. Beautiful paint scheme. Two wins with it. Thanks to Valvoline. Thanks, Mr. H. Wish you were here. So cool.”
“I just told him it was kind of a chickenshit move that he did there at the end,” Harvick said of the heated conversation between the two. “We’re racing for the freaking win at Bristol. We’re three-wide in the middle and he throws a temper tantrum. I was just trying to get the lead and racing hard. Then he pulls up in front of me and just sits there until I lose the whole lead.
“I just hate it for our whole Subway Ford Mustang team to be able to lose a race like that. I watched him let the 24 by and then anytime you run into him, it’s a problem.”
As Harvick explained his side of it, boos began to rain down from the fans in the stands, but that didn’t faze him as he was still visibly angry at Elliott.
“They can boo all they want. I don’t care…. God damn, I ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off!”
For the other side of the story, Elliott didn’t back down for how he raced Harvick, noting it had been a pattern of behavior for the 2014 series champion.
“It’s something he does all the time,” Elliott said. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks and sometimes it does cuts down your left side and other times it doesn’t. He did it to me at Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing with me. And whether he did it on purpose doesn’t matter, at some point you’ve got to draw the line
“I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it. I’m going to stand up for me and my team and we’ll go on down the road.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 16
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (4:35 pm, 5:00 pm TV airtime – USA Network)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (5:20 pm – USA Network)
Saturday, September 17
- Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol (7:30 pm – 500 laps, 266.5 miles – USA Network)