No matter the era in the NASCAR Cup Series, the Bristol Night Race is still one of the prestigious races in the racing calendar.
It’s truly a stock car gladiator battle among the 36 drivers who’ll combat for Bristol Motor Speedway glory. Greats like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart can attest to the significance of a Bristol Night Race win.
As for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs field, only one driver can breathe a bit easy. Christopher Bell, this year’s New Hampshire Cup race winner, clinched a Round of 12 spot on the strength of consistent finishes. However, for the remaining 15, each driver will vie for a coveted spot to transfer into the Round of 12.
Bristol Motor Speedway’s still one tough customer with self cleaning corners and straights. Problems can occur in a hurry which leaves drivers with little to no time to react to impending issues.
Kyle Larson prevailed last year after Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott tangled in the late going. This year, Larson hopes to punch his ticket into the Round of 12 while the likes of Elliott, Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch hope to continue their championship quest next weekend at Texas with a good result at Bristol on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on USA and PRN).
Podium Preview: Bristol Night Race
With Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace crashing the Playoff party with their wins, how much urgency does this place on the bubble drivers for a Round of 12 spot?
Shoppe : I don’t think it changes the urgency all that much for Playoff contenders. There’s still guys with healthy cushions over the cutline, just not a complete lock. We will see quite a few drivers just hoping to survive Bristol without a major incident by playing it safe. Or as safe as you can at “The Last Great Colosseum.”
Sisoler : It depends on the situation of each driver. If you’re Ross Chastain (in ninth place entering Saturday night’s race) or higher, sure, a win would be really nice, but your main job is to survive and not make a big mistake that takes you out and opens the door for someone else. If you’re his teammate Daniel Suárez (10th place) or lower, there could be, maybe not more urgency, but a bit more pressure on them to try and get the win.
Tiongson : In this case, for those very close or on the cutline, it’s probably quite stressful. But this would probably be less than ideal if this happens in the next two rounds. However, Bristol isn’t the ideal cutoff track for the Round of 16 and nobody is safe until the remaining drivers lock themselves into the Round of 12.
Solomon : Honestly, in a weird way, I feel like there’s actually a little less urgency from it. Only one driver, Christopher Bell, has locked himself into the next round. That being said, there are more ways and more opportunities for bubble drivers to make it to the Round of 12. There are obviously a handful of drivers who feel safe ahead of Bristol, but also several drivers who aren’t as sure looking to keep their Playoff hopes alive.
Chase Elliott entered the Round of 16 with a comfortable lead. With two less than stellar results to open this leg of the Playoffs, how important will it be for him to have a clean finish at Bristol?
Lambeth : Entering the Round of 16 cutoff race, Chase Elliott comes to Bristol 28 points above the cutline. For starters, finishing in the top-10 in the first two stages should give him more comfort if something goes wrong during the final third of the race.
With finishes of 36th and 11th to kick off the postseason, it’s very important for Elliott to have a good night in Thunder Valley. Elliott remains one of the favorites to win the championship and a decent result in the Bristol Night Race can give the No. 9 team a reset in momentum to keep pushing forward.
Sharpe : The key to staying on top is consistency. I cannot repeat that enough. So many Playoffs dreams in past years have been dashed just by having awful finishes and awful pit stops. With Jones and Bubba both winning and not being in the Playoffs, that means those two chances of snagging immunity for the round are gone.
This season has been full of bizarre and exciting events, eighteen different winners. Look back at legendary driver, Mark Martin. He may have never snagged a Championship, but he was always in the running to get one. His constant great finishes in the 1998 against Jeff Gordon made him a force to be reckoned with.
The top driver in the Playoffs I believe will be someone who can dodge wrecks and poor pit stops while finishing every week in the top ten. They may not snag a win at every Playoffs cut-off, but their ability to keep a cool mind will surely pay off.
That’s two fast laps around Bristol Motor Speedway, which went by in a hurry! Next, let’s consider last Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, Race 28 of 36 of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season!
Now, let’s look at the top 10 starters for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race at Bristol!
Lastly, here’s our picks for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race at Bristol!
Lambeth : Stewart-Haas Racing came to play, showing good speed rolling off the hauler and sweeping the front row with Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe. However, I feel like this will be Denny Hamlin‘s night to visit victory again under the lights at Bristol, after coming close to winning last week at Kansas when his car won. Now, it’s Hamlin’s time to shine.
Sharpe : Hamlin’s ability to push and fight back at short tracks are his key to snagging so many wins and great finishes.
Shoppe : As the only driver completely safe to go all out for a win, Christopher Bell will put an exclamation point on an already outstanding opening round to the Playoffs!
Solomon : Kyle Busch has had a big week, signing a multi-year deal with Richard Childress Racing beginning in 2023. That being said, I think it’s fitting for him to win his 10th Bristol race this week and go to victory lane for potentially the last time at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Sisoler : We’ve seen a pair of non-playoff drivers win, now it’s time for a playoff driver to do it, and I think it’s gonna be a guy on the outside looking in that takes the checkered flag. Chase Briscoe has looked quick this weekend in practice and starts second, and he looks to be as good a pick as any at Bristol to grab the victory and advance at the last chance.
Tiongson : When Kyle Larson said that this is “the easiest car” he’s driven at Bristol, I perceive it as bad news for the competition. Look for Larson to successfully defend his Bristol Night Race win!
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! While we progress toward a new kind of normal, please do your part to curb the impacts of the pandemic by washing your hands and getting your COVID-19 vaccine or booster. By working together, we can minimize the threat of COVID-19 for ourselves, our loved ones and neighbors.
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.