Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

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

By David Morgan, Associate 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 a few 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 2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 17th, 71 laps led)

August 2018 Race Winner:  Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (Started ninth, 24 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:

  1. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.9
  2. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 97.1
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.0
  4. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 95.3
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.6
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 92.1
  7. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 91.5
  8. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.3
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 90.8
  10. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 89.9

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 and sometimes a frustrating time when things don’t always go your way.”

Last Year’s Results

Kurt Busch used a late race restart to propel himself to a sixth Bristol win in last year’s running of the Bristol Night Race, breaking a winless streak dating back to the 2017 Daytona 500.

Lining up alongside Clint Bowyer, who was then his teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch snagged the lead from the inside lane on a lap 478 restart, but would still face some adversity in the form of Kyle Larson over the closing laps.

Larson surged to second-place with 30-lap fresher tires, but couldn’t muster enough speed to mount an attack for the lead and the win as he watched Busch cross the line .367 seconds ahead of him.

Chase Elliott finished third, with Joey Logano and Erik Jones rounding out the top-five. Bowyer dropped to sixth in the final rundown.

“It’s awesome to do it at Bristol,” said Busch. “I love this place.  We now have won six times here and I have great teams that have always helped me win.  This group of guys, Billy Scott, my crew chief, this is his first win and to be able to do it with Ford and Monster and Haas Automation is just what it’s all about is executing as a team and we had good restarts when we had to, and then you’ve got to get clever and start throwing everything at it.

“It was up to Bowyer to choose the lane.  He chose the outside and we got a perfect start on the inside.  I dug it perfect right into turn one and two and the spotter said, ‘Take it.  Take it.’  Which meant go to the wall on exit and I didn’t even bother to look in the mirror.  He said, ‘Take it,’ and when you trust your team to give you the right stuff setup-wise, you’ve got to trust the spotter the same way.  Tony Raines.  He’s a racer.  That’s why he’s my spotter and it worked out perfect.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, August 16

  • MENCS Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:05 pm to 1:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:35 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, August 17

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

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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.