There are many arenas and coliseums of sports around the United States and the world. But only one can be dubbed the last great coliseum, and that title belongs to the Bristol Motor Speedway. On Saturday night, NASCAR would return to its roots as the Sprint Cup Series raced a shootout under the lights in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol.
The dominant team in NASCAR in recent weeks has been Joe Gibbs Racing, and that would not change in qualifying. Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Toyota) would lead three JGR cars in the first three spots. Teammates Kyle Busch (#18 Skittles Toyota) and Carl Edwards (#19 Stanley Tools Toyota) would join him up front.
Much like the spring race at Bristol, and the previous day’s Xfinity Series race, Joe Gibbs Racing was dominant in the first half. The three teammates at the front would swap the lead back and forth, while their fourth teammate struggled. Matt Kenseth (#20 Dollar General Toyota) would exit the race early after his engine expired.
As in any race, mistakes on pit road were costly at Bristol. But at the half-mile oval, they were amplified by going multiple laps down. Kyle Busch was arguably the most high profile of those mistakes, where a loose wheel would send Busch from fifth and contending for the lead, to one and nearly two laps down. Many other drivers would encounter mistakes both under green and yellow, including teammate Carl Edwards when his tire went down while leading.
The problems for the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates would hand the lead to Joey Logano (#22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) with under 150 laps to go. And as the race wore on, cautions would begin to breed cautions, allowing for new faces to emerge near the front of the pack, including the drivers of Hendrick Motorsports.
Three of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers would work their way into the top 5 with under one hundred laps to go. However, they would not contend for the win tonight. Meanwhile, Team Penske would flex their muscle, with Joey Logano leading, and Brad Keselowski (#2 Miller Lite Ford) in second. However, an exchange of pit stops under caution with just seventy laps to go would shuffle the deck, with some drivers choosing to stay out.
Brad Keselowski would take advantage of the caution, staying out on the track and taking the lead. Keselowski’s time at the front would be short lived, as Logano would pass him quickly on the restart on fresher tires. Now the race would heat up at the front between the same two drivers who battled for the win at Watkins Glen – Logano and Kevin Harvick (#4 Budweiser Chevy).
In the end, Harvick would not be able to negotiate traffic and pass Logano for the lead. Joey Logano would hang on to win the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol. Harvick would come home second, Clint Bowyer (#15 5-Hour Energy Toyota) bouncing back in third.
With now only two races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicago, the chances to bump your way in or out of the chase are slimming. Drivers like Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon (#24 Axalta Chevy) are hanging on desperately to their final chase berths. They will take their hope to Darlington Raceway in two weeks for a Labor Day race, live on your NBC station.