BRISTOL, Tenn. – It all comes down to Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway for 14 of the 16 postseason racers.
While Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick locked their spots in the Round of 12, there is plentiful moving and shaking to be had for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs field. Namely, for Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Michael McDowell, their hopes to continue a championship quest ride on great finishes tonight.
Truex entered the postseason with three victories and the regular season championship. However, he has been in a tailspin in the opening races of the Round of 16, slipping from first to 13th, seven points below the cutline.
Ahead of tonight’s race, Truex starts fifth, a potentially good position to challenge for the win and a Round of 12 seed. Likewise, McDowell accompanies him with an equally strong fourth place qualifying effort.
Those ahead of the quartet like Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick are barely above the danger zone. Wrecks can happen in an instant, typically on corner entry and on the straights, and that may put any postseason pursuer in danger.
As Logano said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, ““There’s a fair amount of room at Bristol. When you think about it, I know it’s a half mile and it’s tough, but you can run by the wall or the very, very bottom so sometimes, they tangle up on the exit as they come up against near and there. But in the corners, there’s some space. I think that part will be OK.”
Lurkers and ramblers will be abound at the 0.533-mile concrete oval. Bristol is a lot like a hit 1965 song, “Nowhere to Run,” sung by Martha and the Vandellas.
Last year, Chris Buescher kicked off his resurgence as a Cup contender with a popular win at Bristol. A year later, he looks like a potential threat to win his first premier series championship with RFK Racing.
Once the NASCAR official unfurls the green flag on race day, it is anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this year’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol. For the time being, come along for the ride this and each race weekend with Podium Preview.
This weekend, Cody Shoppe, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis Torres, Matt Sisoler, and yours truly ponder about Martin Truex Jr.’s postseason prospects and the squabble between Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.
Podium Preview: Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol
Of the drivers below the cutline, who will emerge from their deficit and join the Round of 12? Defend your answer.
Sisoler : I think Martin Truex Jr. has a great shot, because the bad luck that the 19 team has had since the start of the playoffs can’t last forever. The odds are against him having a bad enough run to miss the playoffs at Bristol. However, he and his team must find a way to break that streak of bad luck early in this race or M-T-J will be O-U-T.
Torres : Rotten luck has hindered Martin Truex Jr. in this round which is the grand surprise to me because he is a title contender. No excuses going into Bristol, he must have a trouble free night to avoid being a pick for the Cup to one of the most disastrous post-season runs in history.
I put that on the team at Darlington and for Kansas, Truex never had a chance to shine. Sometimes, luck matters and Truex is in this predicament.
He’s had a strong car all throughout 2023 and I do think it’ll help him overcome an unfathomable spot he’s in and move on. It won’t be easy, but one driver having a bad night can change all of that.
Shoppe : I think most of us would expect Martin Truex Jr. would be able to get himself out of this hole with a decent run at Bristol. While he doesn’t have the best results at the half mile, it will probably just take a trouble free night tonight to advance.
How important is it for Hendrick Motorsports to de-escalate the late race contact between Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson at Kansas?
Tiongson : If Kyle Larson is to pursue this year’s championship in earnest fashion, I have to think Hendrick Motorsports had a heart-to-heart conversation between Larson and Chase Elliott to settle any lingering tensions.
I agree with what Danielle Trotta said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Elliott’s feelings toward Larson. Before Larson joined Hendrick in 2021, the prime driver seemed to be Elliott. In many ways, he is one of the best in the garage area.
However, Larson had his tour de force championship campaign two years ago with 10 wins. In an off year last season, Larson compiled three wins and he has equaled this total 28 races into this season.
No driver like Elliott or Larson wants to play second fiddle to each other or anyone else in the same organization. That said, Larson and William Byron stand the best chance to bring a driver’s and owner’s championship home for Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott needs to let go of what happened and not let tensions get the best of him moving forward.
Lambeth : It is very important for these Hendrick Motorsports teammates to put the Kansas drama behind them and move forward. Kyle Larson is already locked into the Round of 12 and Chase Elliott’s currently in a good position in the owner’s championship. Both drivers have a lot to race for so it makes zero sense to create a situation that can serve as an unnecessary distraction.
I think both drivers will see the bigger picture and move on from this situation quickly for the good of the team. Earlier in the week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Elliott essentially said there is nothing to talk about here and he has already moved on from the incident with Larson.
Sharpe : A cohesive team is one who is able to come together and push through anything, coming out on top at the end. There may be a chance that Hendrick does not snag a Championship this year, but having all four drivers working together to snag as many points as possible as well as wins, will certainly help.
In the mid 2000s, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson ran into similar problems, Johnson snagging wins every week, while Gordon felt his chance of a fifth Championship was being stolen right beneath his feet. While the powerhouse duo were eventually able to get along again, the effects rippled further than the drivers. Such rifts can hit the men and women who work on the cars each week, causing distrust and beef between co-workers.
Larson and Elliot are both Cup champions, but need to realize that their success is a team effort that Hendrick Motorsports as a whole takes part in. They do not need to be best friends, but do need to put aside any problems as the Playoffs continue to heat up.
Just like that, two laps around Bristol go by as fast the weekends! Before furthering our thoughts on Bristol, let us rewind to last Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Race No. 28 of 36 for the NASCAR Cup Series season, with our race and points reports!
Now, let us look at the top 10 starters for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol!
Row 1 – Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin
Row 2 – William Byron and Michael McDowell
Row 3 – Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselwoski
Row 4 – Chase Elliott and Ty Gibbs
Row 5 – Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie
Last but not least, here are our picks for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol!
Torres : Denied a year ago, Brad Keselowski will look to finally get a win as a driver/owner at Bristol. RFK Racing are becoming a weekly contender once again and if there’s a race I see Keselowski showcasing he’s gonna be a dark horse contender for the championship, Bristol is is calling.
He’s proven to be consistent for much of 2023 and while Chris Buescher has figured it out and been a top driver, Keselowski isn’t awfully far behind and it’s going to change on a maddening Saturday night. Keselowski’s drought will end and punch his ticket into the Round of 12 with ease.
Lambeth : At this point, you would think Brad Keselowski is tired of coming up short in triumph on multiple occasions to RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher.
After a good qualifying run and entering the Bristol Night Race with plenty of confidence, I think it will finally be the No. 6 team’s turn to visit Victory Lane.
Shoppe : The breakout year for Chris Buescher will continue at one of his best tracks! Last year’s race winner will repeat and earn his fourth win of the year for RFK!
Sharpe : RFK has risen to the challenge of snagging a Championship this year with both of its drivers in the Playoffs. Chris Buescher has proven his skill at Bristol and I feel like his calm demeanor and leveled approach will help him come out on top.
Sisoler : This driver has had a breakout season, and I think he’ll make it back-to-back wins at the fall Bristol race. Chris Buescher will be taking the checkered flag and a spot in the next round home Saturday night.
Tiongson : From worst to first would be quite the story for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 team. Larson has mentioned how he enjoys the challenge of marching through the field. I wouldn’t count out the No. 5 given how fast he is in a short and long green flag run.
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 as we celebrate our 15th anniversary of operations!
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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