Photo courtesy of Logan Riely | Getty Images
This season in the NASCAR Cup Series, the ‘Crown Jewel’ races have provided some of the most dramatic and entertaining races of the season.
Two weeks ago, Erik Jones survived a race full of engine failures to win the Southern 500. The Coca-Cola 600 was an entertaining marathon race full of twist and turns and the Daytona 500 was decided on a photo finish.
Now, with the Bristol night race being the cutoff race for the Round of 16 once again, what fireworks and drama will NASCAR fans be treated to?
Last season, Kyle Larson won a dramatic race at Bristol after tempers flared between Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott.
The first two races in the Round of 16 have seen non-playoff drivers coming away with victories. Petty GMS Racing won their first Cup Series race since merging after the 2021 season with Jones holding off Denny Hamlin.
At Kansas Speedway, Bubba Wallace won his first-career Cup Series race on an intermediate track as he held off Hamlin for the victory, giving the No. 45 team the season sweep at Kansas (Kurt Busch won there in May).
With Wallace’s win, he is in the Round of 12 in the owner’s playoffs.
Heading into the Bristol Night Race, Harvick is in a must-win situation after failing to finish in both Round of 16 races at Darlington and Kansas. The 2020 Bristol Night Race winner sits 35 points below the cutline and will begin the night race in seventh.
Kyle Busch is the first driver below the cutline (-2). The eight-time winner at Bristol pavement picked up his only win of the 2022 season back in April on the dirt at Bristol after Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe collided on the final lap.
This week, Busch announced that he is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 years to join Richard Childress Racing in 2023.
Busch will begin the Bristol night race in 21st in what will now be the final stretch of his illustrious JGR career.
Starting on pole is Aric Almirola, a non-playoff driver. It is his first pole position since the debut of the Cup Series at Nashville Superspeedway last year (finished fourth). Recently, he changed his mind on retirement and will return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023.
Chase Briscoe will start beside him on the front row. He sits nine points below the cutline. Austin Dillon, who will start 28th, is the fourth driver below the cutline.
Right above the cutline are Daniel Suarez (+6), Tyler Reddick (+2) and Austin Cindric (+2). They will all begin their shots to advance into the Round of 12 in 29th, 17th and ninth respectively.
Christopher Bell is the only driver that has secured his ticket into the Round of 12 on points with fifth and third-place finishes at Darlington and Kansas respectively. He’ll roll out in eighth.
Hamlin has finished as the runner-up in each of the last two races, putting him 47 points above the cutline. He won the Bristol night race in 2012 and 2019 and will start this one in third.
Coverage for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. The stages will run through laps 125, 250 and 500. You can catch the race at “The Last Great Colosseum” on USA Network and the Performance Racing Network.
Pit stall assignments:
Goodyear tire notes:
Tire: Goodyear Eagle 18-inch Speedway Radials
Set limits: Cup: 1 set for practice, 1 set for qualifying and 10 sets for the race (9 race sets plus 1 set transferred from qualifying)
Tire Codes: Left-side — D-5170; Right-side — D-5172
Tire Circumference: Left-side — 2,254 mm (88.74 in.); Right-side — 2,277 mm (89.65 in.)
Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front — 16 psi; Left Rear — 18 psi; Right Front — 46 psi; Right Rear — 44 psi
Storyline – Several factors impact tires at Bristol: The NASCAR Cup Series wraps up the first round of its playoffs this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, and both teams and tires will endure a tough challenge. The concrete surface at Bristol is hard on tires and will change continually as the race goes on over 500 laps. Because of the speeds and loads, Goodyear designs the construction of its tires for Bristol to align with other speedways, not the short tracks that the half-mile length would suggest. From a tread compound standpoint, the key for Goodyear is to lay rubber on the concrete surface. That, combined with the fact that the PJ1 grip compound will be applied to the bottom several feet of the racing surface in both corners, will allow drivers to move up the track to find alternate grooves as they search for grip.
“Bristol is undoubtedly a challenge across the board,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “We have done a good job with bringing a set-up that rubbers-in the track and allows for multiple racing grooves. Bristol has had a recent history of using PJ1 in the corners, so that ‘preferred’ groove takes rubber fairly quickly. The progressive banking and the search for fresh concrete will have teams moving up the track, which potentially leads to more passing and better racing.”
Notes – Cup teams on Pocono left-side and unique right-side at Bristol: Having moved to an 18-inch bead diameter tire for 2022, NASCAR Cup teams will run a different tire set-up than those in the Xfinity and Truck Series at Bristol this week . . . this is the same left-side tire Cup teams ran at Pocono in July . . . this is the first time these teams have run this right-side tire code . . . in addition to the obvious construction changes to what Cup teams ran at last year’s race on the Bristol concrete, these two tire codes feature compound changes, which will give the cars more grip . . . with this 18-inch tire, and its lower profile sidewall, NASCAR Cup cars will not run inner liners in any of their tires in 2022.
— Goodyear Racing —