Mash The Gas – Bristol Night Racing

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to good ol’ beatin’ and bangin’ short track style racing as the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway host the Irwin Tools Night Race this Saturday night. The night race at Bristol has always been considered one of the best and most electrifying races of the season and for years was the toughest ticket on the tour to obtain. The Bristol track has its attitude back. Expect both speeds and tempers to rise as the pressure to make the Chase couples with Bristol’s fast, tight quarters, fender rubbing racing. It’s the last chance for drivers to take their aggressions out before the Chase begins and it’s not uncommon to see helmets fly at Bristol a la last year when Tony Stewart chucked his headgear at Matt Kenseth after they crashed while battling for the lead.

The green flag is scheduled to start the action at 7:43 pm EDT at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, August 24th. 500 laps of anything-can-happen racing are on tap for the drivers in the Irwin Tools Night Race. After this race there are only two more events to finalize the Chase field for this season. It’s coming down to the wire and the point battle to get in is tightening.

Here are the drivers we think you should be watching at Bristol.

Kurt Busch
Dan Margetta: Kurt Busch and the surprise #78 one car team out of Denver are just simply too good to not find victory lane sometime and Saturday night could represent their best shot for a win. Busch has five wins at Bristol and has the aggressive driving style necessary to survive 500 laps here. This team has scored top ten finishes in six out of the last eight weeks and they put up a strong fourth place result in the Bristol Spring race. Currently in the Chase but in need of an insurance win, look for Kurt Busch and the #78 Furniture Row bunch to finally close the deal and score the much deserved victory.

Kasey Kahne
John Wiedemann: Kasey Kahne is pretty safe as far as making the Chase this season. Currently Kahne is sitting in the Wild Card position but is only four points out of the top ten. Again, being in the top ten is the only way a driver can get bonus points for the wins accumulated in the first twenty-six races. Kahne has two wins this season with one of them captured at the Food City 500 at Bristol in March. Kahne led over 100 laps of that race and was always in the top ten. If I’m not picking the drivers Dan is talking about, I would predict win number three of the season and a return to the top ten in the points for Kahne.

Kyle Busch
DM: OK. . . If it’s not Kurt Busch in victory lane, it will most likely be his brother Kyle. Kyle Busch also has five Bristol wins to his credit to go along with 12 top ten finishes, including a strong second place run in the Spring race. Like his brother, Kyle also possesses the aggressiveness and toughness necessary to run well at Bristol and a win Saturday night would tie him with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth for most wins on the season which translates to valuable bonus points in the Chase.

Denny Hamlin
JW: Where has he been? How about Denny Hamlin returning to the front at Bristol. Hamlin won the fall race last year and led 117 laps in the spring. Hamlin was in contention until he decided to wage war with Joey Logano and ended up finishing 23rd. The battle with Logano didn’t turn out well later as the two got together at California wrecking and injuring Hamlin. But back to Bristol, a track where Hamlin could return to victory lane. . . Or just as easily get back into it with Logano. Well, either way, Hamlin will be one to watch.

Matt Kenseth
DM: Matt Kenseth also seems to thrive at Bristol where he owns two victories and 17 top ten finishes. Don’t forget how dominant Kenseth was at Bristol in the Spring when he led several laps before getting swept up in Jeff Gordon’s wreck with less than 100 laps to go. Kenseth cut his teeth at places like Slinger Speedway which is really just a smaller version of Bristol so he knows how to get around the high banks. While not normally perceived as an aggressive driver, Kenseth isn’t afraid to mix it up and his ability to combine that aggressiveness with a savvy race craft, make him dangerous at intense places like Bristol.

Joey Logano
JW: The other piece of the equation that I was talking about before. Joey Logano won at Michigan last weekend and gave his Chase hopes a shot in the arm. So, the question is will Logano survive Bristol? Logano says he needs three top tens to make the Chase, but will the other drivers let him finish there? Bristol is a track that perceived transgressions that a driver has made to others are paid back. Logano has done little to make friends with his competitors this season. Predictions of payback usually don’t come true, but you never know and that is why short tracks are fun to watch.

Brad Keselowski
DM: Brad Keselowski has been the most successful driver at Bristol over the last two years, scoring two victories and placing a strong third in the race here in the Spring. Keselowski is one of the drivers on the bubble as far as making the Chase and with having gone winless to date, he needs a victory for insurance. This team has played it safe the last two weeks and while they earned strong points finishes, they’ve sacrificed possible victories in the process. Playing it safe at Bristol usually gets you into trouble so expect Keselowski to be all-in on Saturday as he has the perfect attitude to conquer the high banks and get Penske Racing its second win in a row.

Clint Bowyer
JW: I could just copy and paste the same thing every week. Clint Bowyer needs wins, or maybe I’m wrong. Right now Bowyer would be down twenty points to both Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Twenty points is a solid margin but the consistency Bowyer has been displaying this season has him second in the standings right now. The wins would help now but getting one or two in the Chase could be all Bowyer needs for a championship. Bowyer doesn’t have a win at Bristol yet but with Michael Waltrip Racing he has scored finishes of fourth, seventh and fifth.

Juan Pablo Montoya
DM: With nothing to lose and something to prove, I’m choosing Juan Pablo Montoya as my long shot pick this week. After being informed he will not return to the #42 last week, Montoya has something to prove to the NASCAR world. One would think he would be totally out of his element at Bristol but on the other hand, the guy is a bear when it comes to aggressive driving. He finished 13th in the Bristol night race last year and I expect him to go all out on Saturday night. If he survives long enough to be a factor at the end, don’t under estimate his ability to put the right foot down when it counts.

Mark Martin
JW: Almost getting the win last weekend at Michigan has been Mark Martin’s luck at Michael Waltrip Racing. Martin has been close but hasn’t been able to get his hands on the prize. This weekend, super-sub Martin returns to Bristol Motor Speedway in the seat of Tony Stewart’s #14. Martin hasn’t raced at Bristol since 2011 when he drove for Hendrick Motorsports. This weekend will be Martin’s 47th start at the track where he won twice back in 1993 and 1998 driving for Jack Roush. Since Stewart started racing for himself at Bristol, the results haven’t been good – one second place finish and seven other runs finishing between fourteenth and thirty-third. Martin knows how to survive at Bristol and I expect a top fifteen run this weekend, but if the car unloads well, don’t be surprised to see him contend.

Chase Watch
– Jimmie Johnson: He is in the Chase and has four wins for bonus points
– Clint Bowyer: As discussed above he needs wins for the bonus points but he is solidly in.
– Carl Edwards: One win and safe to make the Chase.
– Kevin Harvick: Two wins and safe.
– Kyle Busch: Three wins with good shots to pick up two more prior to the Chase. He’s safe.
– Matt Kenseth: After this weekend, Kenseth will probably be locked in with his four wins.
– Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Should make the Chase again with 20 point lead over eleventh place.
– Brad Keselowski: The Champ has no wins this year and is a dangerous eight points ahead of eleventh place. Without the wins to grab a wild-card, his position is not good.
– Kurt Busch: Just six points ahead of 11th, but his stock is rising. He has won at all three tracks on the schedule leading to the Chase.
– Greg Biffle: Hanging on to the top ten by four points but his win could save him with a shot at a Wild Card.
– Kasey Kahne: Two wins has him leading the Wild Card and is four points out of tenth.
– Martin Truex Jr: Currently the other Wild Card driver and ten points out of tenth.
– Joey Logano: Win at Michigan has him knocking on Wild Card door just seven points behind Truex.
– Jeff Gordon: No wins and sixteen points behind Truex. A lot needs to happen for Gordon to make Chase, including him finding victory lane. Without a win he has no chance, unless Earnhardt, Keselowski and Kurt Busch crash and finish last and Gordon finishes second at this weekend . . . “so, you’re telling me there’s a chance”. Actually, on that theory Tony Stewart still has a chance.
– Ryan Newman: One win, but seventeen points behind Truex. He has a better shot than Gordon right now but needs others to falter.
– Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola: These drivers would need to win and grab a lot of points while others have bad finishes over the next three races. They are huge long shots and probably off the list next week.

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