NASCAR Cup Series: Bristol Preview, Predictions, and How To Watch

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson at Bristol Motor Speedway
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Drivers have one final chance to advance at Bristol. Who will step up and keep their championship dreams alive?

16 drivers will enter, and 12 will leave. That’s the situation as the NASCAR Cup Series prepares for the final race of the opening round of the playoffs this weekend: the annual Bristol night race.

The first two races of the postseason have thrown a wrench in everyone’s plans. A non-playoff driver has won the last two weekends, and only one driver (Christopher Bell) has clinched a spot in the Round of 12 based on total points. That leaves 11 spots up for grabs in a tight playoff field, one where the first three in and first three out are currently separated by just 13 points.

The ever-dangerous Bristol will provide the ideal setting for the remaining drivers to duke it out to save their seasons. Drivers will have to deal with close racing, lapped cars, and traffic jams if they want their name in the final 12. This is also the first race this year on the Bristol concrete, as the Spring race was held on the dirt track.

In the Spring, Kyle Busch won on the dirt, but Kyle Larson won the last race on concrete in 2021. All drivers will want a win to clinch their spot, but pit walls will play a big role in monitoring the live standings and helping their drivers manage risk. Drivers will have to balance between pushing to the limit and driving smart if they know they’re safe. It’ll take a team effort to advance this weekend, so now it’s time to see which teams will step up to the occasion.

The Track

Bristol Motor Speedway, located in Bristol, Tennessee, is the second-shortest track on the 2022 regular season schedule at just 0.533 miles long. It has several nicknames, including “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” and “The Last Great Colosseum.” Drivers can complete a lap in around 15 seconds, helping the track live up to its name.

There isn’t much to the track, but let’s go over the key details. Unlike Martinsville, the other short track on the calendar, Bristol allows drivers to carry more speed through the turns with high banking. The banking in the corners is anywhere from 24 to 28 degrees. The straights are just 650 feet long and only slightly banked from four to nine degrees. The concrete surface is 40 feet wide, allowing a decent amount of room for racing despite the track’s short nature.

Darrell Waltrip holds the Cup Series record for most wins at the track with 12, including seven in a row. Kyle Busch, however, is the king of the track. Across the three major series, he has won 22 times at Bristol, with eight coming in the Cup Series.

This weekend’s race will be 266 miles long, and consist of 500 laps. Stage 1 will be the first 125 laps of the race, and Stage 2 is the same length, ending on lap 250. The final stage will be the remaining 250 laps of the race.

File:Bristol Motor Speedway map.png - Wikimedia Commons

Playoff Standings

While Bell has clinched, there are still 11 spots up for grabs, and the standings are close. Here’s where the drivers stand heading into the weekend. +/- will indicate where each driver is in relation to the cutline.

IN:

  1. *Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2108 points (+58)
  2. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports – 2098 points (+48)
  3. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2097 points(+47)
  4. Joey Logano, Team Penske – 2090 points (+40)
  5. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske – 2086 points (+36)
  6. Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports – 2080 points (+30)
  7. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports – 2078 points (+28)
  8. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports – 2077 points (+27)
  9. Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing – 2076 (+26)
  10. Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing – 2056 points (+6)
  11. Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing – 2052 points (+2)
  12. Austin Cindric, Team Penske – 2052 points (+2)

———-PLAYOFF CUTLINE———-

OUT:

  1. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2050 points (-2)
  2. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing – 2049 points (-3)
  3. Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing – 2043 points (-9)
  4. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing – 2017 points (-35)

*= Clinched a spot in the Round of 12

 

Race Predictions – NASCAR Bristol Night Race

I expect the playoff drivers to shine in this one, bucking the trend from the first two playoff races. With everything on the line, I’m going with experience. Kyle Busch is on the outside looking in, and this is his best track, I’m taking him to get the job done for win No. 23 at Bristol this weekend.

  1. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
  2. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports
  3. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
  4. Joey Logano, Team Penske
  5. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports

How To Watch – Bass Pro Shops Night Race (All Times EST)

  • Practice/Qualifying: Friday, September 16 – 4:35 p.m. (Coverage begins at 5:00 p.m.) – USA
  • Bass Pro Shops Night Race: Saturday, September 17 – 7:30 p.m. (Green flag at 7:45 p.m.) – USA
Featured Image Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Read On: Analyzing the 2023 NASCAR Schedule