Track Talk: A Preview of The Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol

Jeff Gordon looks to score his sixth and final Bristol win tonight!

Tonight, 42 men and one woman will be going Sparta, or rather Bristol on each other for 500 laps at the famed 0.533-mile short track in Tennessee.  This concrete beast that’s welcomed NASCAR competitors since 1960 will be ready to write a new 500 lap story that welcomes a rainbow colored car for the first time since August of 2000, a man from Joe Gibbs Racing who’s determined to sweep the Cup races this year, and of course, looking for some bad blood to boil unlike a certain Taylor Swift song which we likely already named.

The Irwin Tools Night Race has been a ticket that race fans absolutely chase after like precious gold as races at Bristol Motor Speedway are quite memorable and action packed.  Despite the track’s changes in 2007 with progressive banking to the grinding of 2012 that partially eliminated that element and made the top groove as the preferred line, it’s still a great fun track for the racers, teams, and fans.

Heading into race 24 of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, drivers like Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. have enjoyed the sweet emotions of Victory Lane.

For others like Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, and Jeff Gordon, it’s all about finding their way into the winner’s circle without having to be a contestant on the $25,000 Pyramid – oh wait, that was so 1985.

Ashley Hull enjoyed her fourth win of the 2015 TPF Track Talk season when she correctly chose Matt Kenseth to win last Sunday’s race at Michigan.  As a result, she has panelists Ashley HobbsKatie Copple, and yours truly looking for a Saturday night victory while we answer this weekend’s edition of Trending Topics which we’ll get now in a Bristol Motor Speedway second!

Trending Topics by Ashley Hull

Question 1
Clint Bowyer is not singing, if you're curious.

Clint Bowyer is not singing, if you’re curious.

It’s been announced that MWR and Clint Bowyer will part ways at the end of the 2015, and MWR will only run it’s Sprint program part-time in 2016. It’s been speculated that Clint may join the Ganassi program. Do you see this benefiting Clint in any way, and do you think that MWR will make the Chase this year to end their association on a a good note?

Hobbs :  MWR has not been a great performing team lately, and sadly this tends to happen to those teams. It is sad when teams rise up, hit a low, and never bounce back. With the talks a few weeks ago, it is not really a surprise that this has happened. I wish Bowyer and David Ragan both the best of luck next year finding rides, and I hope Ragan can pick up a good ride. Perhaps both drivers will end up at Ganassi in the end. With many of the top tier teams capped at their 4 cars, it will be hard to find a top tier ride. Penske is the only option for, in my opinion, landing something with a top tier team, but it does not seem like Roger Penske wants to stray from his Logano/Kez duo.

Copple :  At this point, I think any move would be good for Bowyer. I have no problem with MWR and personally, it’s sad that they won’t be able to fund a full team next season but Bowyer and the entire organization have been in a rut for a long time. I hope we get to see MWR back to full season running order in a few years.

Tiongson :  First off, I want to say that I really hope all of the employees at MWR find some comfort in this difficult time.  Having seen how this sport is so competitive and very business like first hand, I really hope everyone lands on their feet and can continue their dreams in this sport.  That said, Clint Bowyer is still a solid racer and has much to prove still after his solid effort in 2012.  Could he make the Chase?  Absolutely.  While he isn’t likely going to Ganassi at this juncture, I see him driving for the Toyota efforts and if that somehow doesn’t work out, I reckon he’s back to a Bowtie team.  As for David Ragan, he’s a great young racer who has shown flashes of brilliance in this unusual season.  I’d love to see him race in a solid drive for 2016 and beyond.

Question 2
Matt Kenseth told everyone to follow his car's nose!

Matt Kenseth told everyone to follow his car’s nose!

How did you think the rules package at Michigan fared? Did it make the race more exciting or boring? And of all the rules packages that have been implemented thus far, which one do you see being more successful?

Hobbs :  I did not watch the race this weekend, but from all the interviews and articles written, it seems like it was an absolute dud of a race because of the package. Kenseth led almost 75% of the laps and there was barely any passing (again, all from what I read). If that is the case, clearly NASCAR is going in the wrong direction with trying to improve the on track passing conditions.

Copple :  Each track is different and each race is different too. Changing rules packages throughout the season is, in my opinion, needed. At least to some extent. It also keeps the drivers and teams on their toes. I thought Michigan was a great race, considering the heat!

Tiongson :  I’m all for NASCAR trying anything to make the sport better but this package didn’t work at Indianapolis and it definitely was ineffective at Michigan.  I talked about this with Dennis Michelesen earlier in the week and recently with ESPN’s Ryan McGee.  Both have good points.  Michelsen pointed out how the tapered spacer has hurt the racing and I for one agree with that stance.  Perhaps taking away the high horsepower count from the Cup cars has hindered the on track product.  As for McGee, he mentioned how the 2014 rules package produced solid racing weekly for the Cup competitors.  There were few races that were boring and it seemed like a configuration that allowed for racers to get through traffic.  At this point, we likely aren’t gaining back the horsepower and it seems like the various packages this year were ways for NASCAR to try and compensate for those changes.  Michigan is a great track and that is no fault of the staff and the drivers with the racing that took place last weekend.  Instead, it’s about taking note of what the sport needs to do to close out 2015 on a high note and getting the 2016 package correctly done.

Question 3
Excuse me, pardon me, 2015 edition.

Excuse me, pardon me, 2015 edition.

Last weekend at Mid-Ohio, Regan Smith used the good ole’ bump and run on Alex Tagliani to win the race. Tagliani wasn’t happy with it at all. Many people were pointing out the hypocritical nature of Smith for getting into a fight with Ty Dillon about the way he was being raced the previous weekend. What is your take on this?

Hobbs :  Well, at The Glen, Regan and Dillon were not in contention for the win, but more trying to earn as many points as possible. Both drivers were probably frustrated they weren’t running better and then things happened to take things up another level and the tempers flaired. Move forward to Mid-Ohio – you now have one of those drivers in contention for the win, racing someone who is not contending for points but just the win. Let me say this first, no matter who you are, if you feel like you got dumped, you are going to be pissed if it costs you a victory.

Now, again, I did not see this race so I am not aware of what went on before the bump and run, but usually when a driver gets that close to you that you can move them slightly, it usually means that driver doing the bumping is a bit faster and is annoyed with the lack of speed from the guy in front of them. Maybe Tagliani got wide on a turn and Smith closed up and Tagliani tried to get back to the line and Smith was already there; maybe Smith just really did not care and wanted to win the race.

Either way, this is racing and this bump and run action happens a lot and drivers do get pissed. We look forward to this weekend and we have Bristol; if you think a bump and run at a road course can cause some frustrations, wait until we see what Bristol brings!

Copple :  He didn’t wreck him. That is the big thing here. He moved him but he didn’t wreck him. Rubbin’s racin’ right? I say… More power to em’! Makes for an exciting finish.

Tiongson :  Like what Katie said, Smith didn’t wreck him and as a result, it was a good hard clean pass.  While Tagliani may have not appreciated that move, if he was to be in the same spot and he was a corner away from winning the race, he’d likely ponder about it at the very least.

Question 4
Excuse me, pardon me!

Excuse me, pardon me!

We are heading to Bristol this weekend, which is known as the “Last Great Colosseum”.  What are some of your favorite Bristol memories?

Hobbs :  There was that one time, where that driver made a bump and run move… and then won the race!

Copple :  I can’t pick. Bristol is my favorite track on the circuit… And I’ve never actually been there! I’m going to be glued in front of my TV on Saturday night like I am during every race at the Colosseum.

Tiongson :  Oh gosh, so many memories are there for the taking!  However, I love the 1995 race, starting with the contact with Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace that resulted in a post race tangle in the garage area.  Seemingly a common denominator in that race, Earnhardt raced a No. 3 Chevy that looked about as mangled up as the Terminator in the second film and somehow raced his way into position for the win.  Although he came up short to Terry Labonte, he tried to win it and got into the No. 5 car at the end.  Labonte’s Chevy was destroyed but it was the happiest driver and crew in Victory Lane with a pile of grit.

Neil Diamond once said that we’ll get our own lightning and indeed, we will with some Bristol Motor Speedway racing, NASCAR style!  Before we get to our race picks, let’s get to those important TPF Track Talk points standings heading into Race 24 of the 2015 season.
1) Ashley Hull – 770 points (4 wins) 
2) Rob Tiongson – 734 points (4 wins) 
3) Ashley Hobbs – 672 points (2 wins) 
4) Jessica Bushee – 653 points
5) Courtney Clement – 648 points (3 wins) 
6) Jessica Tow – 421 points (1 win) 
7) Kim Melton – 419 points (3 wins) 
8) Katie Copple – 37 points 
9) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points
We might be a smaller group this time around but we’re just as determined to have a fun, exciting race weekend for Track Talk.  With that being said, here’s our race picks for tonight’s race and it’s a Bristol showdown!
Jeff Gordon gets the votes to win tonight from Hobbs and Rob.

Jeff Gordon gets the votes to win tonight from just one panelist!

Tiongson :  I’m going with the racer who somewhat reminds me of Conan the Barbarian when it comes to racing at Bristol – Jeff Gordon.  Why?  Because I’ll quote a famous line from the 1982 film: “Crom, grant me one request – Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then the Hell with you!”

Katie and Hull are going for a Rowdy victory tonight.

Katie, Hobbs, and Hull are going for a Rowdy victory tonight.

Copple :  Race pick is Kyle Busch. He has five wins at the track and four already this year. He is more determined than ever to win this season.

Hobbs :  Going with the No. 18 tonight!

Hull :  I’m going with Kyle Busch tonight!

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race and who is your favorite to win?
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts express in Track Talk are solely of the authors and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.
Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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