Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

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 on the high-banked bullring that is called “The Last Great Colosseum.”

Racing at Bristol is always intense, but when the lights go down for the night race each August, the intensity gets cranked to 11 and the aggressiveness that the drivers will show 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 last season, 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 last few playoff spots. 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.

Illustrating the unpredictable nature of racing at Bristol, five different drivers have won in the last five races at the track. Will we see a sixth different driver celebrating at the end of the night? 500 laps will tell the tale.

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, 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 2017 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 11th, 81 laps led)

August 2016 Race Winner:  Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet (Started 24th, 128 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:

  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 100.2 – 4 wins
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 99.3 – 5 wins
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 97.4 – Best finish: 7th
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.3 – 2 wins
  • Erik Jones – No. 77 Toyota – 93.4 – Best finish: 17th
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.0 – 2 wins
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.8 – Best finish: 6th
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 91.4 – 5 wins
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 90.5 – 1 win
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.6 – 2 wins

From the Driver’s Seat

“When I was a kid, the night race at Bristol was the one I got really excited about,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “They parked the vans over the corner and literally it felt like we were 20 feet from the cars sitting on top of the vans there. You just could see the drivers working in the cars and you could see the action. There was no better experience in my book than getting that close to stock car racing in those days at Bristol. Me and the other kids would run around and beg everybody to let us wax their cars or whatever we could do. It was such a small place. It was fun to get involved in anything and everything in the infield. During the race, we’d probably watch from 50 different vantage points. We’d be climbing all over trucks and going down pit road and getting on this truck and that truck. We’d just be everywhere. So, I loved going there.”

“The track itself is real unique. There’s not another one like it. It has always been a surprise to me that nobody has ever tried to emulate it somewhere else because it’s such an incredible place. Particularly when it was asphalt, it was quite the racetrack. And it’s surprising to me that nobody has tried to rebuild that sort of racetrack somewhere else to see how it would do. But maybe it’s best there’s only one. It’s still a lot of fun to race on even though it’s changed quite a bit. And, I always thought that was one of the coolest trophies. It was taller than me for quite a large part of my life. Until I graduated from high school, I don’t think I was any taller than that trophy, and daddy had a bunch of them in the house. He had a lot of clocks. He had a lot of Bristol trophies. And I wanted one of each. So, I feel lucky to have those now.”

Last Year’s Results

After getting 48 laps completed in last year’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, rain set in for the duration of Saturday night and despite NASCAR’s best efforts, Mother Nature won the night and postponed the race until Sunday afternoon.

When the race resumed the following day, it would go the distance as daylight turned to dusk, with attrition being the word of the day on the treacherous high banks of the half-mile bullring.

With several of the major players exiting the race early, Kevin Harvick, who led 128 laps on the day after starting 24th, pulled away in the closing laps to score his second Bristol win. The win marks Harvick’s second win of the season and his first win at Bristol since 2005.

After taking the checkered flag, Harvick had his team owner Tony Stewart join him on the frontstretch as the two did dueling burnouts to celebrate Harvick’s win and Stewart’s final Bristol start.

“I wanted him to go on a victory lap with me and say goodbye to all the fans, but that was pretty cool, doing burnouts with him,” said Harvick. “I’ve got to thank Busch Beer, Jimmy John’s, Chevrolet, Mobil 1, Ditech, Outback, Hunt Brothers, Morton Buildings, Bad Boy, and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing on this Chevrolet. We should have won a lot of races this year and we’ve just had things not go our way, made mistakes, or whatever the case may be, but to get back in victory lane here at Bristol feels really good. We’ve had some good cars here over the last few years and to have Busch Beer on the car, we’ve had some crap luck with these guys on the car. Just really happy for Busch and Jimmy John’s and for all of these guys on the No. 4 team.”

“That is cool,” said Stewart. “The funny part is he got out of his car, got the flag and then he goes ‘get in my car and go to Victory Lane with me.’  I went what?  He goes ‘yeah, just leave yours here.’  I’m like I just can’t just leave my car there, but that was cool.  I’m happy for these guys.  This is a hard place to win at.  There are so many things that can go wrong.  All it takes is one thing.  I mean we had a wheel that was loose and that messed our whole day up.  That was cool sharing that moment with him though.”

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. backed up his career-best finish with a second place run and was followed to the finish by Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and rookie Chris Buescher to round out the top-five.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, August 18

  • MENCS Practice (10:00 am to 11:25 am – No TV, Streamed on NBC Sports App)
  • MENCS Final Practice (12:30 pm to 1:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:45 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, August 19

  • MENCS Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 pm – 500 laps, 266.5 miles – NBC)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.