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Mash The Gas: NASCAR Bristol Preview

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images]

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

It’s time for one of the most anticipated Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races of the year as the Bristol Motor Speedway hosts the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Saturday evening.

Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
Bristol Motor Speedway
266.5 miles (500 laps)
Saturday August 19
7:30 p.m. ET
NBC, 7 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 125)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 250)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 500)
The Bristol night race always provides plenty of action and drama and with just three races left until the playoffs, this year’s edition shouldn’t disappoint as many drivers are in desperation mode to make the cut.

Bristol is a lightening quick half mile high banked concrete oval and the intensity ramps up under the lights.

The Bristol night race is a survival type race where while drivers have to be aggressive, they have to be smart too and keeping their emotions in check goes a long way toward avoiding problems.

The action is set to kick off Saturday night with the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol and here are some drivers to watch …

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
It sounds like a broken record but once again, Matt Kenseth could really use a win as currently he is the final driver inside the playoff cut line and still seeking his first victory of the season. It’s a precarious position because should a new winner emerge this weekend, Kenseth’s point cushion is eliminated and he would be on the outside looking in. Matt Kenseth is very good at Bristol where in 35 races he has four victories, fourteen top five finishes and twenty one top ten results. He owns the best Driver Rating here and is listed at 10-1 odds this weekend. Kenseth has been running up front the past few weeks and has been in contention to win late which sets him up well heading into Bristol. Plus, with no solid job in line for next season, a victory at Bristol would show that despite being the oldest driver on the circuit, Matt Kenseth can still get it done. With all that time spent at the front of the field lately, Matt Kenseth should be able to nail down a win one of these weeks and Saturday night looks like a good place to do it.

Joey Logano (John Wiedemann)
It’s the same thing every week, Joey Logano needs to win, his Richmond win in the spring doesn’t count. But this week is a little bit different, this is a week where he should do well. This is a week where he should win. Bristol has been a great track for Logano, he has won twice including the night race two seasons ago. Logano has finished in the top ten and led laps in his last four Bristol races. His average finish in those four races has been 6.5. Getting caught up in someone elses mess should be the only reason Logano doesn’t run well this weekend. But he can’t just run well, he needs to win. Darlington has been a good track for him and is up next. Richmond is in two weeks and he has run well there, he won there in the spring… or did he? The point is, Logano needs to return to his winning ways now, time is about up.

Kyle Larson (DM)
With his thrilling late restart surge to victory last week at Michigan, Kyle Larson has re-established himself as a serious title contender in 2017. He has yet to win at Bristol but has performed very well on concrete race tracks and has three top ten finishes in his seven starts here. In April, Larson led the most laps in the race at Bristol before finishing sixth and he is listed as a 4-1 odds to win favorite this week. If a driver is brave enough, the very top groove at Bristol is a fast way around and Kyle Larson, with his dirt racing background, has no problem getting “up on the cushion” so to speak. The Michigan victory last week should provide Larson with plenty of momentum heading into Bristol and he should be considered a favorite on Saturday night.

Chase Elliott (JW)
We’ve all been waiting for Chase Elliott to have that breakthrough and find victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. While that hasn’t happened yet, some have wondered why and if something is wrong. In reality, Elliott has been improving, maybe a bit slower than fans want, but he is a place better on his average start and finish as opposed to last season and will probably eclipse his top 5 and top 10 totals from 2016. Elliott is in a pretty good position as the playoff season closes in. With three races left, there are currently three wildcard positions available and Elliott is at the top of the wildcard eligible list. In three races at Bristol, Elliott has two top ten finishes and a fifteenth place run. If he can continue that 8.7 average finish this weekend, he should continue to be safe.

Kurt Busch (DM)
Kurt Busch is already qualified for the playoffs by virtue of his season opening win in the Daytona 500. But that victory seems so long ago and since then Busch has disappeared from the front of the field. Currently under negotiations to keep his seat in the #41 car for next season, Kurt Busch could use some performance results and Bristol is a great place for him to showcase them. He has five victories here but they all came years ago and lately Bristol has been sort of hit or miss with him. Still, he did finish third in this race last year and he is listed at 40-1 odds this week and might be worth a look. Kurt Busch has a driving style that fits well with Bristol and if he can steer clear of bad luck he should be one of the drivers to beat Saturday night.

Kevin Harvick (JW)
While he is far from the “Most Popular Driver” in NASCAR right now, Kevin Harvick is one of the top drivers at Bristol. In the past four races at the short track he has an average finish of 3.25 and is the defending champion of this race. If you just look at night races, Harvick had the pole in 2014, finished second in 2015 and led 128 of the 500 laps on his way to the victory last year. Harvick could use some bonus points from stage and race wins as he heads into the playoffs currently seeded seventh with one win and eight playoff points. Playoff points are going to prove to be valuable and drivers are going to wish they had them as the playoffs progress. There are twenty-one playoff points still available for the taking and Harvick may want to start capturing them this week.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DM)
Coming in at 60-1 odds this week, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is my long shot pick for Saturday night’s Bristol race. Stenhouse runs quite well here as he has a pair of runner-up finishes, the most recent occurring in this race last year. One difference from last year is that Stenhouse now owns two victories and is locked into the playoffs, which should allow him to concentrate on winning the race and not worrying about points. Stenhouse is another wheelman who fits Bristol’s aggressive style and it matches his record here where he owns three top five finishes and five top tens. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. should come to Bristol with a lot of confidence and shouldn’t be forgotten if you are looking for a long shot pick this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr (JW)
While always a favorite at any track this season, Martin Truex Jr heads into a Bristol that has been tough on him in the past. In the spring race, Truex finished eighth after leading 116 laps. But that wasn’t the whole story. Truex was in contention all day and even won the second stage but speeding on pit lane put him in the back of the pack. In 32 laps Truex ran up to finish eighth, but without the speeding penalty he would have second and probably would have won in a tight battle with Jimmy Johnson. Those days of crew and driver miscues seem to be behind the #78 team and they have been on fire. All Truex has to do is end Bristol with a 121 point lead in the points, he currently has a 129 point lead, and he wraps up the regular season championship. That would mean another 15 bonus points added to his huge treasure chest of 35 playoff points that will pretty much lock him into a spot for the championship race in Homestead. My bet is that Truex still goes for the win. He’s kind of greedy with these playoff points.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta