Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN — September 19, 2020
Four drivers will be eliminated from the NASCAR Playoffs tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway. The venue is the wild card as things happen so fast at Bristol it is not hard to get caught up in someone else’s incident. Avoiding trouble will be critical for the drivers near the cut line. The drivers in 8th place and above have a good cushion coming into race 3 of the first round. From 9th place on down it’s a toss-up. Matt DiBenedetto(21) and Ryan Blaney(12) will likely need a win to advance.
|Round 1 Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
There will be 30,000 fans in the stands for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, 500 laps around the World’s Fastest Half-Mile make up the 266.5-mile distance. Stage lengths are 125/125/250. Denny Hamlin(11) is the defending champion of the race. If he is to repeat, Hamlin will have to do so by coming from the rear of the field.
Three Joe Gibbs cars were sent to the back for failing inspection twice. Teammates Kyle Busch(18), and Erik Jones(20) will join Hamlin at the tail end of the pack for the green flag. Also dropping to the rear are J.J. Yeley for replacing Brennan Poole in the #15 car. Corey LaJoie(32) and Bubba Wallace(43) join them for making unapproved adjustments to their cars.
Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski(2) and Joey Logano(22) start on the front row, with Martin Truex Jr.(19) and Kevin Harvick(4) in row 2.
Keselowski and Harvick jumped to the lead at the drop of the green followed by Logano. Brad led the first 18 laps until Harvick caught him in lapped traffic and drove past into the lead. NASCAR had scheduled a competition caution for after 30 laps. Trouble struck before then. Jimmie Johnson(48) turned down into Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) along the backstretch sending Stenhouse spinning into the wall. Extensive damage to the #47 retired Ricky to the garage, the first driver out of the race.
Tyler Reddick(8) and Matt DiBenedetto(21) sat on the front row for the restart. Keselowski and Logano behind them. Matty D led briefly thanks to taking just two tires on his pitstop. However, it did not take long for Keselowski to move past and resume the lead. With 100 laps on the board, the Top 5 were Keselowski, Chase Elliott(9), Logano, Kyle Busch, and DiBenedetto. Busch’s run from the rear of the field was expected, given his past success at Bristol.
The battle for Stage points intensified over the final 25 laps. Elliott took over the top spot and Kyle Busch made a mad dash to catch him. Chase took the Stage Win, with Kyle trapped in lapped traffic taking 2nd. Keselowski faded to 7th and Logano finished in the 9th position.
Stage 1 Results
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||10|
|2||18||Kyle Busch (P)||9|
|3||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||8|
|4||88||Alex Bowman (P)||7|
|5||95||Christopher Bell #||6|
|6||1||Kurt Busch (P)||5|
|7||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||4|
|8||24||William Byron (P)||3|
|9||22||Joey Logano (P)*||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Joey Logano’s Stage finish gave him enough points to clinch a spot in the next round, regardless of his final outcome in the race. Ryan Blaney did not gain a Stage point and now must win if he is to advance to Round 2.
Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman(88) led the field on the restart. Kyle has said repeatedly he is concentrating on keeping his 15-year win streak alive. Still, the 9 Stage points will help him move farther away from the cut line. Fifty laps into Stage 2, Kyle Busch remained the leader. Elliott, Harvick, Logano, and Kurt Busch(1) trailed the #18 car.
DeBenedetto needed a perfect race to stay in the playoff hunt. A loose right rear wheel brought him to pit road for a green-flag pit stop. Matt dropped three laps behind the leaders. Fresh tires allowed DeBenedetto to gain a lap back on the track.
Truex had the exact same problem on his race car and had to pit for four new Goodyear tires. He also went three laps down. But, when Truex returned to the track the handle on his car had gone away and he went another lap down. Unfortunately, when his car would not turn, Truex climbed the track right in front of his teammate Hamlin. Contact between the two caused significant damage to Hamlin’s car wrinkling the hood while damaging the nose of the #11. Truex suffered some damage to the rear of his car, both were able to continue racing.
Late Stage Accident Causes 1st Elimination
Joey Gase(51), running 18 laps down, checked up in the middle of the race track. Christopher Bell(95) slammed on the brakes to avoid him and William Byron(24) ran into the back of Bell. Extensive damage to the radiator and oil lines sent Byron to the garage and out of the race. The first driver to be eliminated at the end of Round 1.
The resulting yellow flag allowed DeBenedetto to get another of his laps back as he stayed out during the caution period and took the wave around. With 2 laps to go in Stage 2, Ryan Newman spun and brought out the caution again. DeBenedetto was the 1st car a lap down and got the lucky dog free pass to return to the lead lap.
A big break for the Wood Brother #21 Ford Mustang as DeBenedetto will need a win to advance after not scoring any Stage points heading into the final segment of the race.
Kyle Busch held on for the Stage Win, Harvick took the 2nd spot with Elliott finishing in 3rd.
Stage 2 Results
|1||18||Kyle Busch (P)||10|
|2||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||9|
|3||9||Chase Elliott (P)||8|
|4||22||Joey Logano (P)||7|
|5||1||Kurt Busch (P)||6|
|6||88||Alex Bowman (P)||5|
|7||10||Aric Almirola (P)||4|
|8||14||Clint Bowyer (P)||3|
|10||3||Austin Dillon (P)||1|
The Final Stage
With the Stage points earned through the evening, Chase Elliott advanced to the next round. It was Busch and Harvick back out front at the start of the Final Stage until Harvick passed for the lead on Lap 280. Running 250 laps will require at least one pit stop, whether it happens under green or the race has more caution flags will likely determine the outcome.
Keselowski complained that his car had lost power steering and he began to drop back in the field. NASCAR eventually black-flagged the #2 for not maintaining the minimum competitive speed. No worries, Brad advanced with his win last week at Richmond.
Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch both came to pit road complaining of a vibration. They joined Truex 3 laps down to the leaders. The track position was more critical for Busch as he dropped onto the bubble based on where everyone was running at the time.
As the leaders lapped slower cars, Kyle Busch made a couple of runs at Harvick without success. Green flag pit stops for the leaders began with Logano hitting pit road with 130 laps to go.
Harvick was one of the last to pit, as he headed for pit road with 94 laps to go. Austin Dillon(3) checked up as Harvick was slowing and collided with James Davison(53). Quick action by Harvick’s spotter had him staying on the track trapping a number of cars laps down.
When everything settled out there were only 6 cars left on the lead lap. On the restart, with 73 laps to go, it was Harvick and Kyle Busch out front. Erik Jones(20), Clint Bowyer(14), Tyler Reddick, and Aric Almirola(10) competing for the win.
With 50 laps to go, the running order was the same for the leaders. Busch began to put pressure on Harvick as they worked through lapped traffic. With 40 to go, Kyle Busch drove to the lead as Harvick got trapped behind a slower car.
Only 31 to go and Busch had a difficult time lapping Logano. Harvick resumed the lead after getting to the low side of Kyle. The next car in line was Busch’s teammate Hamlin. Denny pulled over and let the leaders pass.
With 20 to, Harvick was pushing hard to stay out front. His car seemed to be getting looser with every lap as Kyle Busch closed to a car length. Busch got to Harvick’s door with 5 to go, but Kevin quickly pulled away exiting the corner. Looking for the opportunity to pull off the bump and run, Busch was never able to get to Harvick who won for the 9th time this season. Twice in this round of playoffs. Kyle Busch will have to wait another week to try and extend his annual win streak to 16 years and he does advance to the Round of 12.
Cole Custer(41), William Byron(24), Ryan Blaney(12), and Matt DiBenedetto(21) were the four drivers eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at the end of Round 1. Points now reset with playoff points earned in Round 1 being added to the season’s totals. With a 67 point advantage to start Round 2, Kevin Harvick almost has a free pass into the Round of 8.
|Rank||Driver||Points||Status||Stage Wins||Playoff Points|
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||3016||+11||4||16|
|Round 2 Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Five Ford Mustangs remain in the hunt for the Cup Championship. Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer start Round 2 below the cut line, joined by the Busch brothers.
Next week, Round 2 starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Getting to the Round of 8 is probably the most difficult as Talladega and the elimination race at The Roval in Charlotte both can scramble the standings.
Results of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway
|20||38||John Hunter Nemechek||497|
|24||19||Martin Truex Jr.||496|
|40||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||28|