Podium Preview: Bristol Night Race

Pick a number, any number. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Pick a number, any number. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

What more can be said other than the words uttered from Dale Earnhardt Jr. following the 2004 Bristol Night Race? Indeed, “It’s Bristol, baby!”

No matter if it’s with the rough and tumble stock cars from yesteryear to today’s highly engineered machines, Bristol remains a constant factor. By that, this 0.533-mile concrete speedway gets its thrills with frantic action especially in the evening.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley Hobbs, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorTaylor Kitchen, and yours truly ruminate over Ross Chastain’s party crashing ways and bubble racers worth watching at Bristol!

Podium Preview: Bristol Night Race at Bristol
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Question 1
Did somebody say Ross Chastain? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Did somebody say Ross Chastain? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Ross Chastain seems like the most impressive racer outside of the Playoffs in the past two weeks. Can he and his No. 42 team spoil the Playoff party in the final eight weeks?

Hobbs : It is historically difficult for a non-Playoff driver to spoil the party. While he may break up the field a little more, there is a reason why these 16 Playoff drivers are the Playoff drivers. The exception to the rule can always be Talladega. Bristol being a short track also has advantages to closing the field, but those 16 Playoff drivers are still going to be the ones up front. So, spoil the party? No. Ruffle the party and make a few others work a bit harder? Very possible.

Raynor : Ross Chastain has been very impressive lately, but I don’t think he will spoil the playoff party. He has shown his growth and I enjoy seeing him do great, but the playoff drivers are really a solid bunch and it’s going to be hard in these last eight weeks to beat Hendricks and Joe Gibbs Racing. Will he be in the mix? Sure. Just because he’s not in the playoffs doesn’t mean he should not run hard or try to win a race. I expect everyone to run hard from now until the end of the season. 

Sisoler :  While it can be difficult for a non-Playoff driver to spoil the party for others, I think Ross Chastain has the ability to do that. It looks like, in their final races in NASCAR, Chip Ganassi Racing has brought its big guns for Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain, which means ‘The Melon Man’ could be in a prime spot to make life difficult for the playoff drivers, and would be my pick to be the non-playoff driver to cause the most headaches for the 16 playoff drivers.

Shoppe :  The Playoff contenders must be a little annoyed that of all the non-playoff guys to find speed and mix it up with them, it had to be Ross Chastain. The Melon Man is the least likely driver to move aside and let a title contender have some room for any position let alone a win! If Chastain can keep this great pace up throughout the remainder of the playoffs, leaders better be careful with all they have to lose. 

Chastain could very well be fighting for wins throughout these final months as some on his team look for a future job! 

Lambeth :  With Ross Chastain and Chip Ganassi Racing finally putting all the pieces together in the last half of the season, it makes it even more a shame that Ganassi is leaving NASCAR at the end of the year. Chastain is certainly making things interesting by mixing it up with drivers fighting for the championship. His CGR teammate Kurt Busch already won earlier in the year at Atlanta. It would be the perfect ending to Ganassi’s time in NASCAR if both cars visit victory lane before they cease operations. Based on Chastain’s recent form, I think there is a possibility that the Watermelon Man can get the job done although the historical odds are not in his favor.

Question 2
Is it Kurt Busch's time to shine? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Is it Kurt Busch’s time to shine? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

The Playoff bubble battle intensified following the rubber match race at Richmond. Of those on the cusps of advancing into the Round of 12, which racers seem most likely to fight for another three weekends?

Tiongson :  I’d not count out the likes of Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick and even Michael McDowell. Yes, it’s easy to point to Kyle Busch as the near bubble racer who will advance. However, Bristol is unpredictable and can favor such unexpected circumstances. One mistake on the track and anyone’s vulnerable to Bristol’s cruel fate with sheet metal.

Kurt Busch has six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10 results in 40 starts. Basically, he’s quite a potent contender on Saturday night. If his Las Vegas Playoff win last year was any indicator along with his strong track record at Bristol, well, KB1 seems just like a great pick for any fantasy racing player (and no, this feature is not sponsored [yet] by a fantasy sports site).

Although Tyler Reddick got crunched up on a lap 228 crash in the spring 2020 race, he rallied back with a fine fourth last fall. The high line seems like a great option especially with how dynamic things get with Bristo. More than that, Reddick responds to high pressure situations quite efficiently as he did with advancing into the Round of 16 after the 400 at Daytona.

Lastly, Michael McDowell, this year’s Daytona 500 champion seems like a man who pulls off surprises. No, his numbers are not sparkling. However, consider his 14th and 10th place results last year and how Front Row Motorsports seemingly has speed at this track. If anything, this driver and team do not have anything to lose. To me, that’s the kind of mentality that a driver and team must possess if they want to hoist the sword after 500 laps under the Tennessee moonlight.

Jones :  I think Kurt Busch wins and Alex Bowman points his way in, while Aric Almirola will find himself below the cut line with Tyler Reddick, William Byron, and Michael McDowell. That’s the easy answer, but I could make a case for just about any bubble driver advancing.

Michael McDowell has had decent runs in recent years at Bristol, and with Drew Blickensderfer atop the pit box making the gutsy calls, if McDowell stays out of trouble, he could find himself in a fortunate position.

Byron proved last year at Daytona that he can make magic happen when needed. Reddick has had incredible finishes in all three series at Bristol. Bowman has that Hendrick magic under the hood. 

I think Kurt Busch pulls off the win, but even so, with his six Cup wins, he has proven to know this track. Almirola tends to sneak out of nowhere when needed. 

It could easily be any of these drivers advancing – which makes these cutoff races so incredibly intense and even more exciting. But, I stand by my original picks of Ku. Busch and Bowman seeing the good side of the cut line. 

Torres :  Outside of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, the other two Hendrick Motorsports drivers have their work cut out in the next round. At the moment, Alex Bowman is the most vulnerable.

Not only will he have to survive Bristol to advance into the next round, he must step up his game. Should he advance, Bowman’s road path won’t get any easier. I’m still concerned that mediocrity isn’t going to get him far. Yes, he has three wins but when it’s not going his way, he’s usually having a quiet day. These playoffs just won’t cut it.

William Byron is the other one who needs work. Does he stay on par with his teammates? Occasionally. That’s the biggest problem. The Byron who is fast right out of the gate needs to reappear in the coming races. Potential is there, but it’s just not there yet and would like to see more out of the No. 24 team.

Kitchen :  I am quite nervous for all the drivers around the bubble right now. With how close the points are from Joey Logano to William Byron, Bristol will be a wild card of chaos. Unfortunately for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers below the cutoff line (a major upset), this is not a track that suits them, so they must do their best to avoid disaster. On the other hand, multiple drivers have an advantage coming to this track.

I would like to think drivers like Kurt Busch (who is +0 above the cutoff line) can see major benefits coming to this track and has the potential to fight another three weeks. Other drivers like Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick, and Kyle Busch can also find benefit at this track to solidify their place in the round of 12. 

Sharpe : The key to staying in the playoffs at this point I think is consistency. Look at Denny Hamlin. He might have just won his first race this entire season, but the reason he’s stayed on top with the points is finishing up in the top five to top 10 every race. 

Not only do the drivers need to pick up their game, but they need to keep their cool while under pressure. Last year, we saw Kevin Harvick lose his cool at the end of the Martinsville race, which ended with him wrecking during the last lap. As much as I would love to see Byron and Bowman make it to the next round, they haven’t been consistent like their teammate Larson. This season has been full of crazy twists and turns, but now it is time to tighten up those belts and focus on the goal – the championship. 

Indeed, two laps at Bristol proves quite fast for the panelists. Keeping the pace up, here’s a look back at Race 28 at Richmond with our race and points reports!
Denny nearly delivered.

Denny nearly delivered.

Yes, the machine leads us all.

Yes, the machine leads us all.

Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers that matter most for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race!
First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Bristol Night Race.

First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Bristol Night Race.

Since 2004, the Bristol Night Race winner has an average starting position of 9.6, led an average of 153.9 laps, started within the top five 47.06% of the time and started within the top 10 70.59% of the time.

Since 2004, the Bristol Night Race winner has an average starting position of 9.6, led an average of 153.9 laps, started within the top five 47.06% of the time and started within the top 10 70.59% of the time.

Advantage: Elliott.

Advantage: Elliott.

Next, here's the trends for the Bristol Night Race since 2011 (past 10 races).

Next, here’s the trends for the Bristol Night Race since 2011 (past 10 races).

Meanwhile, here's the trends in the past five Bristol Night Races since 2016.

Meanwhile, here’s the trends in the past five Bristol Night Races since 2016.

Machine loves trends.

Machine loves trends.

Next, here’s the top 10 starters for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race!
Row 1
Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Joey Logano and Chase Elliott (Photo: Michael Guariglia and Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Joey Logano and Chase Elliott (Photo: Michael Guariglia and Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Sean Folsom and Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Sean Folsom and Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Now, the panelists choose their picks for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race!
Choose your driver. Ladies and gents, start your engines!

Choose your driver. Ladies and gents, start your engines!

Tiongson : With six wins and just hanging into a Playoff spot, Kurt Busch wins on Saturday night in theatrical fashion.

Torres : A solid bounce back for Kurt Busch will be critical. At the track that once was his playground couldn’t have come at a perfect time. He’ll have his challenges to get the job done, but the Ganassi momentum should carry forward and the No. 1 team will put Richmond behind them. Busch makes it to the Round of 12 with a huge win.

Kitchen : Now is as good a time as ever for Kurt Busch to win a race. He has impressive stats at Bristol with the fifth best average finishing position out of all active drivers. So, with the pressure at an all time high with Kurt Busch zero points over the playoff cut line, I think he will rise above and win this Saturday.

Jones : With six Cup wins, Kurt Busch definitely knows his way around Bristol. Look for him to wheel his way into the next round of the Playoffs.

Sisoler : When a driver has adversity in a previous race, they fight back that much harder in the next one to make up for it. Two drivers who have shown to do that quite well throughout the years are brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, and I think it’ll be the elder, non-Rowdy, Busch, who gets it done this time at Bristol, as Kurt will best Kyle and punch his ticket to the next round.

Sharpe : My pick will be Alex Bowman. Why? He’s shown potential that when pressured, he can make it out better than before. With the Playoffs heating up and him needing the points to advance to the next round, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be aggressive at Bristol.

Shoppe : With Denny Hamlin safe and on a role of late, he’s a strong contender to win Bristol!

TPF Stats : Soon, the numbers will have to decide which track is truly the best for Chase Elliott. Until that time comes, Bristol is a track that plays nice to Elliott, and being a cutoff race, the two should continue to play nicely together.

Hobbs : Joey Logano has been quietly doing his thing to stay alive in the Playoffs so far. Bristol poses challenges, but Logano always finds a way to survive.

Lambeth : Running his final race with Team Penske in Thunder Valley, it just seems appropriate for Brad Keselowski to put the No. 2 Ford Mustang in victory lane at the Bristol Night Race.

Raynor : Kevin Harvick has been great at this track and has not won yet. Maybe a new paint scheme will help.

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

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Take the shot to save your life and others! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.

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Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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