By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn. – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley this weekend for the annual Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, a showdown under the lights on the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” that is sure to leave sheet metal twisted and tempers flaring once these drivers get done battling for 500 laps.
Racing at Bristol is always intense, but when the lights go down for the night race each August, 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.
After being introduced to rave reviews two years ago, the track will once again be putting down the PJ1 TrackBite compound in the lower groove at Bristol, giving drivers options on running the preferred higher groove or implementing the enhanced grip of the lower groove that comes as a result of the substance being placed on the track. The traction compound will be applied before the race weekend festivities and then re-applied as needed prior to each of the three races taking place this weekend.
In addition to the normal beating and banging that is commonplace at Bristol, this race could have major implications for those fighting for the playoff spots still available. 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 playoff hopefuls, their chances to race for the championship could go right down the drain.
By the Numbers
What: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 24 of 36
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee (Opened: 1960)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 7:30 pm ET Saturday / 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 2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started on pole, 117 laps led)
August 2017 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 18th, 156 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (14.602 seconds, 131.407 mph – 8/19/2016)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Bristol Motor Speedway:
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 101.9
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.8
- Matt Kenseth – No. 6 Ford – 100.6
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 100.5
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.3
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.7
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 91.5
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 90.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.2
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 86.9
From the Driver’s Seat
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit,” said Kyle Busch. “All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time.
“You go down the straightaway and you slam it into the corners and you mash the gas and you kind of sling right back out of the corners. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It’s kind of an art. Some guys are really good at it, and some find a knack that makes them really good at it and makes it seem easy.”
Last Year’s Results
It was the Kyle Busch/Erik Jones Show in last year’s Bristol Night Race as the two combined to lead 416 of 500 laps last August.
Jones started on pole and looked to be the man to beat for the majority of the race, but in true Kyle Busch fashion, he couldn’t let his protégé win his first race that easy.
The two traded the lead 10 times over the duration of the race, with Jones giving Busch a true run for his money down the stretch. Howver, Busch was able to take the lead for good with 56 laps to go and that was all she wrote as he pulled away to win by a 1.422 second margin.
Not only was it Busch’s sixth win at Bristol, it also marked the second time in his career that he had pulled off the weekend sweep, winning the Truck race, Xfinity race, and Cup race.
Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth followed the two across the line, with the elder Busch brother, Kurt, rounding out the top-five.
“Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight,” said Busch. “That’s all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging. My arms were jello and my throat hurts, but man that’s awesome.
“Can’t say enough about everybody on my Joe Gibbs Racing team. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys are phenomenal. Car might not have been perfect, but I’m never perfect. I never feel like we’re perfect, but this Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, so proud of my team, so proud of Joe Gibbs Racing. So proud of Rowdy Nation, this one’s for you.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, August 17
- MENCS Practice (10:35 am to 11:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (12:40 pm to 1:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (5:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, August 18
- MENCS Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 pm – 500 laps, 266.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)