Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN — September 18, 2021
“It’s Bristol Baby” and the excitement of a playoff elimination race makes Saturday night under the lights at the “The Last Great Colosseum” a real treat for NASCAR Fans. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway is always a popular event on the schedule. As they did in 2020, NASCAR placed Bristol as the first elimination race of the playoffs where the postseason drivers will be cut from 16 to 12 prior to the next round. Uping the ante for drivers where the term “bump and run” has always been a part of the track legend.
Three Playoff drivers have locked themselves into the Round of 12 by either wins or points in the first two races of the Round of 16 – Denny Hamlin (won at Darlington), Martin Truex Jr. (won at Richmond), and Kyle Larson (clinched on points) – leaving nine spots still up for grabs tonight.
The Cup Series at Bristol
In total Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races dating back to the inaugural event on July 30, 1961 – the race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen). The 120 NASCAR Cup Series races at Bristol have produced 51 different pole winners and 42 different race winners.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip leads the series in wins at Bristol Motor Speedway with 12 victories; including eight straight (1978, 1979, 1981 sweep, 1982 sweep, 1983 sweep, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1992).
Six former Cup Bristol winners are entered this weekend, led by Kyle Busch with eight victories (Spring 2007, 2009 sweep, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019). Kevin Harvick is the most recent winner at the track taking the checkered in this event last season.
|Active Bristol Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|Kyle Busch||8||2019, ’18, ’17, ’11, ’10, ’09 sweep, ’07|
|Kurt Busch||6||2018, ’06, ’04, ’03 sweep, ’02|
|Brad Keselowski||3||2020, ’12, ’11|
|Kevin Harvick||3||2020, ’16, ’05|
|Denny Hamlin||2||2019, ’12|
|Joey Logano||2||2015, ’14|
|Rank||Driver||Points||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Pts||Pts From Cutoff|
|1||Kyle Larson||2,151||5||13||53||Clinched On Points|
|2||Denny Hamlin||2,127||1||8||23||In On Wins|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||2,113||4||5||29||In On Wins|
Locked, Likely In, In Danger, Currently Out
The 500 laps around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” make up 266.5 miles. Stage lengths are 125/125/250. Martin Truex Jr.(19) sits on the Pole with his teammate Denny Hamlin(11) starting next to him on the Front row. Joey Logano(22) and Chase Elliott(9) make up Row 2 with one of the race favorites Kyle Larson(5) taking the green from Row 3.
The “Choose Rule” is in effect tonight meaning, on restarts, drivers have the option of starting on the outside or inside of the track. Expect to see positions swapped throughout the evening as drivers try to take advantage of the decision made by the car directly in front of them in the lineup.
Honoring America’s Servicemen
In a touching ceremony prior to the command to start engines, 13 trucks circled the speedway in honor of the servicemen that lost their lives recently helping Americans evacuate from Afghanistan. Each truck carried the name of one of those soldiers, an American flag, and a flag representing the branch of the Armed Forces that the individual served in.
Truex drove off into Turn 1 with the lead and Elliott followed him past Hamlin into 2nd. With just six laps in, Elliott moved under Truex and took over the top spot.
Hamlin moved past Truex as the #19 car began to fade back outside the Top 5. Larson, Brad Keselowski(2), and Kevin Harvick(4) made up the lead group.
With no practice or qualifying, NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after Lap 40. The leaders had begun lapping traffic by the time the caution displayed.
All the lead lap cars came to pit road for service. The Top 5 exited in the same order they presented themselves on pit road.
On the restart, Larson surged ahead of Hamlin for the 2nd spot. But, Denny quickly moved back around as traffic sorted out into a single file line. The two drivers swapped positions again, but neither one of them could make a move on Elliott.
On Lap 84, Elliott got trapped behind a lapped car. Both Larson and Hamlin were able to pass the leader. Contact between Hamlin and Elliott caused minor sheet metal damage on the #11 car.
The damage was inconsequential as Hamlin took over the top spot 8 laps later. Hamlin stretched the lead as they continued to battle through lapped traffic. With a clear race track, Larson was able to cut the interval between himself and Hamlin.
The two swapped the lead twice coming to the green and white checkered flag at the end of the Stage. Hamlin prevailed, as Bubba Wallace(23) provided a block on Larson after going a lap down. There were 22 cars on the lead lap at the end of the Stage, with the #22 of Joey Logano being the last car on the lead lap.
Playoff drivers took all 10 bonus points positions on Lap 125.
Stage 1 Results
|1||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||10|
|2||5||Kyle Larson (P)||9|
|3||9||Chase Elliott (P)||8|
|4||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||7|
|5||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||6|
|6||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||5|
|7||18||Kyle Busch (P)||4|
|8||20||Christopher Bell (P)||3|
|9||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||2|
|10||24||William Byron (P)||1|
(P) Playoff Driver *Ford Mustang Drivers
Pit stops shuffled the front of the field. Larson was 1st off followed by Keselowski, Hamlin, Harvick, and Ryan Blaney(12). Chase Elliott was 2nd off pit road but was caught speeding and sent to the rear of the pack for the restart, a huge mistake for a driver with no room for error if he wants to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Larson did not hold the lead long as Keselowski passed and took Hamlin with him. Denny made short work of Keselowski, retook the lead, and began to pull away. Keselowski lost 2nd to the constant harassment of Larson.
On Lap 167 Ryan Newman(6) and Cole Custer(41) got together, Wallace also got involved and the caution displayed. It was a good break for Aric Almirola(10) who was trailing smoke from the rear of his car and it gave him an opportunity to come to the pit road for inspection.
One of the oil lines on the #10 car was leaking, Almirola was trying to maintain his position on the lead lap, but NASCAR black-flagged the car forcing him into the pits for the line to be repaired. Track crews had to apply oil dry to the track to clean up lubricant dropped from his car. Somehow the crew managed to keep Almirola from going a lap down during the repair process.
Back to racing just before the halfway point of the Stage, Larson led followed by Hamlin, Keselowski, Harvick, and Blaney. Elliott worked his way through the field and was back into the Top 10.
Anthony Alfredo(38) and BJ McLeod(78) crashed in Turn 4 bring out another caution on Lap 219. So much fluid was dumped on the track, NASCAR had to bring out the red flag and stop the race for track crews to clean up the race track.
Most of the leaders stayed out to maintain track position, including Chase Elliott who moved up to the 2nd row for the green flag. The race restarted with 18 laps to go in Stage 2.
Hamlin tried to put the pressure on Larson as the laps wound down. But, Larson held on for the Stage win. Bubba Wallace(23) was the only non-playoff driver to crack the Top 10 for Stage points, he finished 4th.
Stage 2 Results
|1||5||Kyle Larson (P)||10|
|2||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||9|
|3||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||8|
|5||9||Chase Elliott (P)||6|
|6||24||William Byron (P)||5|
|7||18||Kyle Busch (P)||4|
|8||4||Kevin Harvick (P)*||3|
|9||20||Christopher Bell (P)||2|
|10||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||1|
(P) Playoff Drivers *Ford Mustang Drivers
Harvick, Blaney, and Logano clinched a spot in the next round based on their points earned in the first two Stages.
The Final Stage
Again, the front of the pack was mixed up after pit stops. Harvick, Blaney, Christopher Bell(20), Truex, and Ryan Preece(37) led the field to the restart.
Blaney drove to the top spot for the 1st time in the evening. Hamlin moved into the Top 5 and began tracking down the leaders. With 250 laps in the Final Stage, it will be interesting to see if drivers are required to make a green flag pit stop or the timely cautions will continue.
Harvick worked his way back to the front through lapped traffic and began to pull away from the other leaders as he seemed to find that line that works so well for him at Bristol. Larson and Hamlin also passed Blaney as slower cars blocked the track in the corners.
Larson quickly closed on Harvick and completed the pass after running in the #4s tire tracks for several laps. As the leaders caught drivers contending for playoff spots, putting those cars a lap down turned into real fights for position on the track. This allowed Harvick and Hamlin to close on Larson and make it a 3-way battle for the lead.
Another incident in Turn 4, this time between Quinn Houff(00) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) gave drivers the break they were looking for as everyone came to pit road when the caution waved.
Larson was 1st off, followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch(18), and Blaney as the race will restart with about 150 laps to go. With the “choose rule” Harvick will restart on the inside of Larson and Elliott sits on the inside of Hamlin.
Houff brought out the caution again with 133 laps to go, crashing into the 3rd turn wall. The Top 5 stayed out, however, some of the guys further back among the contenders took the opportunity to pit for service. Alex Bowman(48) moved into the Top 5 for the first time tonight.
Chase Elliott accumulated enough points at this point of the race to also advance to the next round.
The Final 100 Laps
Larson and Hamlin raced side-by-side for the lead. They banged together and Hamlin cut down a tire causing him to hit the wall. Fortunately, the caution came out allowing Hamlin to come to pit road for service without losing a lap.
But, with 21 cars on the lead lap, Hamlin will have some work to do getting back to the front in the final 100 laps. With Hamlin out of the way, Elliott moved up to challenge Larson on the restart and he drove to the lead with 87 laps to go.
With 50 laps to go, Elliott maintained the lead followed by Harvick, Larson, William Byron(24), and Blaney. With 44 to go Kyle Busch cut down a tire and had to pit under green losing two laps in the process. Busch returned to the track right behind Harvick and Elliott.
With fresher tires, Busch made the pass. While that was happening Harvick and Larson took advantage and also drove past Elliott. Elliott collided with Harvick and cut down a tire. Coming to pit road for a four-tire change, Elliott’s chance at the win went away.
Harvick came out of the battle with the lead and just 20 laps to go. With 10 to go, Larson trailed Harvick by almost a second. But Elliott, three laps down, was holding up Harvick allowing Larson to close to Harvick’s bumper with 5 to go. Larson took the lead as Harvick could not hold him off. Larson’s win denied Harvick his 1st victory of the season.
Harvick and Elliott came together on pit road after the race, both exited their cars, and a heated discussion ensued.
Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones(43) posted an 8th place finish, he and Matt DiBenedetto(21) in 10th were the only non-playoff drivers to finish in the Top 10.
Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing), Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing),
Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing), and Michael McDowell( Front Row Motorsports) were the four drivers eliminated in the first round.
The big winner at Bristol was William Byron. He started the night all but dead, 18 points below the cut line. A 3rd place finish was enough to advance Byron into the Round of 12 by the slimmest of margins, 2 points.
Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch started the night in the Top 12, both failed to hold their spot and Alex Bowman become the other driver to advance his position with a 5th place showing.
|NASCAR CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS
Field to be cut to 8 drivers after 3 more races
|2||Martin Truex, Jr||3029||16|
*Ford Mustang drivers
Results of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway
|1||5||Kyle Larson (P)||—||500|
|2||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||0.227||500|
|3||24||William Byron (P)||0.412||500|
|4||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||1.439||500|
|5||48||Alex Bowman (P)||1.619||500|
|6||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||1.789||500|
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||3.680||500|
|9||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||6.096||500|
|11||22||Joey Logano (P)||7.965||500|
|12||8||Tyler Reddick (P)||8.328||500|
|18||10||Aric Almirola (P)||15.423||500|
|19||1||Kurt Busch (P)||15.884||500|
|20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||499|
|21||18||Kyle Busch (P)||-1||499|
|24||34||Michael McDowell (P)||-2||498|
|25||9||Chase Elliott (P)||-3||497|
|29||20||Christopher Bell (P)||-7||493|