Bristol, TN, Saturday, August 18, 2018
There is no grander scene than “The Last Great Colosseum” lit up for the night race at Bristol. The big bowl, where there is not a bad seat, used to fill for the August Saturday night NASCAR race. Now entertainment dollars are spread thin and options many. If you have never been to Bristol Motor Speedway, add it to your bucket list. It will be an investment in fun you’ll be sure to remember.
In last night’s NASCAR Xfinity Race, Cup regular Kyle Larson(42) won riding the high groove just like the Bristol of old. Despite applying the PJ1 traction compound to the lower groove, the fastest way around keep moving up towards the outside wall all night. There was even some 3-wide racing. It will be interesting to watch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers navigate the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile tonight.
Including tonight’s race at Bristol, only 3 more races are left before the NASCAR Playoffs begin. Darlington and Indianapolis are the other 2 chances for someone outside the top 16 to win their way in. The bottom 3 in points are Aric Almirola(10), 159 points above the cut line, Jimmie Johnson(48) +92, and Alex Bowman(88) +62. All 3 should point their way in unless Bowman has a complete collapse in the next month.
As long as someone inside the top 16 wins tonight, Almirola clinches. Same for Johnson at Darlington. Bowman appears to be in the most danger. All 3 tracks have the potential to produce a first-time winner this year. That would require Bowman to out-point Johnson. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) appears to be the most likely to crash the party. He has a fast car, qualified 12th, and likes racing at Bristol. He just needs to get past Kyle Busch.
It poured rain off and on most of the morning. Shortly after the noon hour, the skies cleared. Then just before pre-race festivities started the skies opened up again. A brief shower soaked the track and the jet-dryers were forced into service.
The Start of The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
It did not take long for the action to heat up after the drop of the green flag. Kyle Busch(18) spun coming out of Turn 4 on the 2nd lap. A total of 15 of the 40 cars on the track encounter some type of damage in the melee. Gary Gaulding(99), AJ Allmendinger(47), and Bubba Wallace(43) sustained enough to be eliminated from the race.
Kyle Busch’s crew repaired his car but lost 2 laps in the process. He lost the entire rear bumper cover, enough of the frame remained undamaged for NASCAR to allow Busch to continue.
Paul Menard(21) started 4th. He developed a problem early after contact with the wall. Something in the front suspension gave-way and Menard was forced to park the car after only 28 laps.
With the rain washing the track clean, NASCAR scheduled a competition caution 60 laps into the event. The yellow flag allowed Kyle Busch another opportunity to work on their damaged car.
During the caution, 2 drivers needing a win to make the playoffs, Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez(19), were caught speeding on pit road. Going to the rear of the field on the half-mile track is a huge penalty. Laps are run in the 15-16 second range and the leader catches the back of the pack quickly.
Stage 1 Finish
Stages at Bristol are 125/125/250. After the early trouble, Ryan Blaney(12) took the lead and held it for 108 laps to the end of Stage 1. Kevin Harvick(4) closed to give Blaney all he could handle, finishing 3/1,000’s of a second behind.
Just 4 laps from the end of the Stage, Stenhouse Jr. suffered a flat tire and lost 3 laps changing 4 tires under green. Blaney passed Martin Truex Jr.(78) to put the series defending champion a lap down. Truex Jr. got the lap back courtesy of the free pass when the yellow waved.
Six Ford Fusions in Stage 1 point positions bodes well for the Blue Oval contingent.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The beginning of Stage 2 saw Harvick jumped to the lead on the restart. He did not hold the top spot long. Chase Elliott(9) drove around Harvick and built a quick 10-car length. Harvick cut a tire 185 laps in and lost 2 laps making a green flag pit stop.
On Lap 192 Blaney took the lead back from Elliott and Almirola followed him into 2nd. The two battled for the lead, going 3 wide with lapped traffic. Almirola tapped David Ragan(38) trying to pass and spun him at the end of the backstretch. Bringing out the yellow flag on Lap 197. The caution allowed Kyle Busch and Harvick to take a wave around and go from 2 laps down to just 1 lap behind.
As Blaney and Almirola were involved with each other, Joey Logano(22) snuck up and took the lead on Lap 201.
Fighting for the Stage Win
Battles exist all around the track. Kyle Busch and Harvick are the only 2 cars a lap down. They fight it out for the free pass with Busch holding on by a car length.
Logano won Stage 2 but had to keep Elliott from making a pass over the last 5 laps before the green and white checkered flag waved.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
Logano resumed the lead on the restart from the Stage ending caution. Elliott hung around within striking distance and took the lead on Lap 297. Elliott’s car seems to come in on the long green-flag runs.
With 160 laps to go, Aric Almirola(10), one of the contenders for the win, developed a problem. NASCAR black-flagged Almirola for excessive smoke from the rear of the car and they had to pit. If that was not bad enough, during the pit stop his team had too many men over the pit wall. The resulting return to the pits for a drive-through penalty effectively eliminated Almirola from contention.
Reed Sorenson(51) hit the wall entering Turn 3 bringing out the caution with 149 laps to go. The front of the field jumbled as everyone pitted for tires and fuel. Clint Bowyer, first out, took the lead on the restart. As the cars settled into position some new names sat in the top 5. Truex Jr. moved up to 2nd, Elliott ran 3rd, Logano dropped to 4th, and Kurt Busch sat 5th.
Byron, Michigan’s Erik Jones(20) sat 6th as the streak of strong runs since his Daytona win continues. With 100 laps to go, Kyle Busch moved into the top 5. Kyle passed his brother 4 laps later to move into 4th. He passed Elliott with 86 laps to go and trailed the leader by only 1.5 seconds.
The Charge to the Front
Kyle Busch moved to the rear bumper of Truex Jr. and with 69 laps to go tried to make the pass. He clipped Truex going into turn one and took the 78 out of the race after a hard impact with the wall.
During the caution, Kyle Busch’s crew informed him they have been unable to fully fuel the car since the Lap 2 accident. He came to the pits and the crew drained enough from the gas can to get him to the end of the race. Unfortunately, Busch returned to the track in 11th position.
Intensity Picks Up
After the restart, the battle for positions turned intense. Bowyer led, but Kurt Busch was on his bumper. Third place Jones fought with Elliott and Jimmie Johnson(48). Then with 29 laps to go Brad Keselowski(2) spun on the backstretch and the caution came out again.
On the restart, Kurt Busch(41) drove to the lead. Elliott, Denny Hamlin(11), and Johnson rounded out the top 5. Kyle Busch went 3-wide with Chris Buescher(37) and Johnson. Three-wide is very dangerous at Bristol and karma bit Busch. As the cars banged several times during their circuit around the track, Busch cut a tire and saw his chance at victory go away.
On the next restart, with 12 to go, Kurt Busch jumped out to a nice lead. Larson moved to second but could not close the gap. Busch captured the win, his first of the year. The victory was Ford’s 100th for the Fusion in NASCAR’s Cup Series. It was the 10th win for Stewart-Haas racing in 2018. How excited was Kurt about the win? He drove
Busch was well locked into the playoffs on points, so his victory did not impact the Playoff standing. Alex Bowman(88) entered the race on the bubble and improved his point lead on 17th position from 62 to 79 points. With 2 races left it will take a win to get in by anyone out of the top 16.
Next week is an off week. Darlington is next up on the schedule, Labor Day weekend.
Results of The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway
|24||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-5||495|
|30||78||Martin Truex Jr.||-69||431|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||849||4|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||493||0|
* Ford Fusion Drivers