Podium Preview: Night Race at Bristol

Above all, Matt DiBenedetto hopes for a Night Race at Bristol win. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Above all, Matt DiBenedetto hopes for a Night Race at Bristol win. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“I didn’t mean to turn him around.  I meant to rattle his cage.” – Dale Earnhardt, 1999

“It’s Bristol, baby!” – Dale Earnhardt Jr, 2004

By all means, the words of two NASCAR legends summarize the Night Race at Bristol.  Certainly, this race doesn’t reward the nice drivers of our sport.

Rather, drivers must compete with a gladiator’s mentality.  When there’s open room, take it instantly.  If it’s your teammate in the lead on the last lap while you’re in second, the chrome horn is your friend.

Not to mention, Round 24 of the NASCAR season means there’s only three opportunities at solidifying a Playoffs spot.  With this in mind, drivers like Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, and Clint Bowyer desire victory at this 0.533-mile short track.

Regardless of the motivations at hand, our columnists, Amanda Shoopman, Ashley HobbsChristina BowmanCody Shoppe, Jose Acero JrKobe Lambeth, Stephen Conley, Tanner Brown, and yours truly discuss memorable moments at Bristol, NASCAR’s folk heroes, and the legacy of David Ragan!

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Question 1
Undoubtedly, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt brought excitement in the 1999 Night Race at Bristol.

Undoubtedly, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt brought excitement in the 1999 Night Race at Bristol.

The Night Race at Bristol produces emotional and memorable moments over the years.  What are two distinct memories that you enjoyed with Bristol and hope to see on Saturday night?

Acero :  For starters, let’s not forget “I didn’t mean to turn him, I only wanted to rattle his cage” when drivers like Earnhardt, Labonte etc. were cool with getting spun around on track for the win. Now it’s like “I’ll race you like you race me”. I mean it’s part of racing and when you have the win within grasp, all bets are off.

Another great moment in Bristol’s famed history is the “rivalry” that Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch had going on during the 2008 night race; where Edwards bumps Busch, takes the checkers, and on cool down lap, gets hit by Busch. Let’s hope we can see that same type of drive and desire to win this weekend. 

Brown :  The most prominent Bristol moment that comes to mind was Jeff Gordon vs Rusty Wallace in 2002. It was a textbook Bristol bump n’ run move that Gordon used on Wallace to snap a long winless streak. That was race was fantastic throughout. You can’t forget the famous Ward Burton vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. either. Ward’s interview afterwards might still be the best interview of all time.

The second night race memory that comes to mind is the Kyle Busch weekend sweep in 2017. I happened to be there all weekend, and witness it first hand. Kyle Busch is a very polarizing driver, but it was truly special to be able to witness that moment in person. 

Cassidy :  The rivalry that was consistent between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in the early 2000’s was a highlight for me growing up as a race fan. During Bristol introduces Keselowski saying “Kyle Busch is an a**” ruffled from feathers but showed these driver’s passions for racing at a young age. 

In terms of a happier moment, I enjoyed seeing the return of the “Rainbow Car” for Jeff Gordon in 2015! Seeing that iconic paint scheme at the night race really created a buzz in NASCAR fans! 

Hobbs :  How can you not mention the classic Tony Stewart helmet throw? That was back when Bristol really ruffled feathers and moving a driver was the only way to get by. To tell you the truth, I miss that classic racing; and I think most fans miss it as well.

Then, there’s the Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth shoving match. Those are the moments where Bristol brings it all out in the drivers. So many moments after the race have taken place, and that is when we, as the fans, really get to see the drivers show their personalities. They are fighting for every position, every point on the track and when another driver moves them out of the way, tempers will flair. 500 laps at Bristol is no easy accomplishment, so no driver wants to be ruffled – but it makes for great post-race (and sometimes during race) action for the fans.

Question 2
Searching for his third racing home in as many years, DiBenedetto may be a folk hero.

Searching for his third racing home in as many years, DiBenedetto may be a folk hero.

Which current NASCAR driver would you consider as a folk hero in terms of an underdog racer who’s done more with less?

Bowman : Matt DiBenendetto. Hands down has to be the folk hero for me. He has done so much with a smaller organization, especially from an interactive standpoint. Regardless of whether it was with GoFas or Leavine Family Racing, he has done an exceptional job of keeping his name in good standing with fans and continues to have consistent finishes with “less”. 

Conley :  Webster dictionary defines a Folk Hero as: a person who is greatly admired by many people of a particular kind or in a particular place. Going off of that definition, i’d say you could call any driver in the field a “Folk Hero”. But, if you go off of the underdog story. I’d say Daniel Suarez. Look at his journey, his fight to get in the US, and a constant battle to make in this sport. He has an entire nation behind him.

Lambeth :  Although he does not really like to be called an underdog and probably will not be considered one for much longer, I am very intrigued by the Ross Chastain story. A watermelon farmer from Florida beat the odds against him to be where he is today. He had a good opportunity with Brad Keselowski’s old truck team but Chastain never won a race for him. Later on, he received another truck ride but that owner quit on him. At that point, things seemed a bit gloomy for the “Watermelon Man.” 

Luckily, Johnny Davis came along and gave Chastain a shot with JD Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This move allowed Chastain to learn, develop and grow in a low pressure environment. It took a few seasons, but he became known as a driver, who could maximize the full potential of his car. Chastain is the type of driver that understands if a car is capable of finishing 16th, then you can’t make it a top-5 car. Some drivers fail to understand this concept, which normally ends up with wrecked cars. You have to take care of your equipment. Chastain’s solid job overachieving earned him the opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing. 

Winning the Xfinity race at Las Vegas last fall with Ganassi really proved that he is capable of performing well in contending equipment. He can take care of a car, but knows how to be aggressive with a potential race-winning vehicle. After paying his dues, Chastain is currently in a great situation. He is running for the Truck Series championship with Niece Motorsports and has a role with Kaulig Racing in Xfinity. To say the least, the future seems very bright for a driver, who earned his spot in NASCAR. 

Shoopman :  I definitely second Bowman in saying Dibenedetto. He’s managed to keep himself relevant with fantastic driving, and amazing fan outreach, despite coming from what is considered “smaller teams.” I believe with the recent news of him leaving Leavine Family Racing, we will see even more people rally around him in efforts to help him get his first win in the MENCS.  

Shoppe :  Ross Chastain hands down! From early on in his career when he was dropped by Brad Keselowski racing, the watermelon farmer has always had the odds stacked against him to make it in Nascar. We all know what happened last year with DC Solar and look at him now! This is a guy that refuses to be defeated! Out of all the great underdog stories in Nascar today, Ross’ is my favorite! 

Tiongson : The ultimate folk hero has to be a tie between Landon Cassill and Matt DiBenedetto.  Certainly, Landon makes the time to interact with fans at the track and online and he’s very much a person who pays it forward no matter his circumstances.  In the case of Matt DiBenedetto, his ability to overcome obstacles and connect with fans makes him a true fan favorite.

Question 3
Thanks for everything, David Ragan! (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Thanks for everything, David Ragan! (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

David Ragan announced that he will step away from full-time competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after this year.  What’s perhaps his greatest moment in his 13-year Cup career?

Cassidy :  The win at Talladega – hands down!

Conley :  On the track, it has to be that first win in the Coke zero 400 in 2011 in the famed No. 6 car. But, Ragan leaves a great line of work that he’s done with the Shriners Hospital and alongside of his brother Adam, the advocacy they’ve given for Down Syndrome. Sometimes the off track stuff, is much bigger, and leaves a longer and lasting mark. The many times I’ve seen those two trackside and the love they have for each other will always stick with me.

Lambeth :  David Ragan’s greatest moment of his career has to be giving Front Row Motorsports its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in team history at Talladega. I will never forget him and teammate David Gilliland working together on the final lap. A wise owl once said, “teamwork makes the dream work.” It was a true underdog story. 

Shoppe :  David Ragan winning at Talladega giving Front Row their first win is one amazing highlight he will always be remembered for. What stands out to me about Ragan on-track is the many runs that he has had in mediocre equipment getting the best possible results for his teams! I met David in a yogurt shop in Concord, NH and that meeting proved what I already knew about him, he is one of the most genuinely kind and humble drivers in racing today! Enjoy your time with your family! 

Tiongson :  I have to think David’s best moment was when he won the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.  By all means, David achieved redemption following his bitter defeat in that year’s Daytona 500.

Without delay, let’s rewind back to Round 23 at Michigan with our race and points reports!
Sisoler scored a hometown win!

Sisoler scored a hometown win!

Might there be more shakeups in the points race?

Might there be more shakeups in the points race?

Before winning time for the Night Race at Bristol, Ashley Hobbs breaks it all down by “Crunching the Numbers!”
How does your favorite team fare under the lights?

How does your favorite team fare under the lights?

Interestingly, Chevrolet hasn't won the Night Race at Bristol since 2016.

Interestingly, Chevrolet hasn’t won the Night Race at Bristol since 2016.

Logano knows his way around Thunder Valley.

Logano knows his way around Thunder Valley.

Now, here are your trends since 2009.

Now, here are your trends since 2009.

Moreover, here are the trends since 2014.

Moreover, here are the trends since 2014.

Could it be Erik Jones' night at Bristol?

Could it be Erik Jones’ night at Bristol?

As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Conan the Barbarian, “Enough talk!” Let’s reveal our picks for the Night Race at Bristol!
One of these seven racers appears ready for a Night Race at Bristol win!

One of these seven racers appears ready for a Night Race at Bristol win!

Acero :  Bristol is his playground and Kurt Busch is the groundskeeper. 

Bowman :  Kurt Busch looks like he is ready to get back to the podium at Bristol. 

Shoopman :  Kurt Busch

Brown :  Kyle Larson has come so close in recent years at Bristol, but I think he finally breaks through Saturday night.

Tiongson :  Kyle Larson reminds us why he’s solid at Bristol and finally gets his first win there and of the 2019 season – in dramatic fashion!

Cassidy :  Clint Bowyer.

Hobbs :  Clint Bowyer has been in a slump the past four races, but he shines at Bristol.  

Conley :  Only three drivers since 2012 have led the most laps and won at Bristol. Only one of those is still active, and he wins again. Brad Keselowski turns this mid-season slide around with a win at Bristol.

Lambeth :  Erik Jones is really good in Thunder Valley, so do not be surprised if the No. 20 Toyota Camry finally gets to victory lane for Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Shoppe :  Ryan Blaney.

TPF Stats :  When it comes to Bristol, Kyle Busch is usually very good, or has misfortunes. Last year was a misfortune; but in April, it was not. Rowdy will repeat what happened earlier this year.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Night Race at Bristol!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Saturday night’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author 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. A Boston native turned Austinite, 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, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

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. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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