The Race to the Chase is coming down to a sprint, and with just three races remaining, Kyle Busch is the only driver guaranteed a spot. While seven drivers have a margin of more than 43 points over the 11th-place position and are practically locked in, the exact makeup of the Chase field is still very much in question. NASCAR’s addition of two wild card spots has done precisely what the sanctioning body intended. And we have rolled into Bristol for a weekend filled with Drama!
NASCAR likes dramatic scenarios. And the Truck Series provided drama with Kyle Busch and Elliot Sadler. Kyle wasn’t totally clear of Elliot’s truck and Kyle ended up hitting the wall and wrecking his truck. But, caution didn’t wave and Kyle limped around Bristol Motor Speedway as if he was looking for someone…oh, and he found Elliot Sadler and decided to give him a little pay back. And the post-race interviews have flared something that will boil over Friday and Saturday night.
Let’s get into the grit of Cup racing at Bristol and its night racing which makes things harder, faster and more thrilling for everyone. “Old Bristol” has shown us to take the expected and throw it out the window, quite literally. With the repaving and how the last Bristol race people think that it will be a “snooze fest” and I am telling you all you are wrong! Drivers are desperate to make the chase and tempers are re-flaring and things will get ugly at Bristol. So let’s look at where we are and who has the chance to win at Bristol.
Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard, and David Ragan already have one victory to their credit and another would practically write their ticket to the playoffs, but the margin between Hamlin in 14th and Ragan in 20th is only 31 points. That means anyone who wins during the next three races has a chance to make up the ground needed to put their team into contention — including any of the currently winless drivers inside the top 20. Winning one of the next three races won’t automatically place a driver in the Chase, but it has rarely been more important.
Kyle Busch is a clear favorite. Kyle is the only driver who has clinched a Chase spot and with the points lead he can almost taste that championship. Kyle Busch has also added more fuel to the fire with Kevin Harvick and these two are off probation and they are ready to rumble again!
Brad Keselowski is a man on a mission; his mission is to make the Chase. He is determined to not let the broken ankle deter his chances and is looking to erase a 52 point deficit from 10th place in the points.
Jeff Gordon hasn’t earned a top-five at Bristol in more than two years, but he owned this track in the mid- to late-1990s with five wins and a near perfect sweep of the top 10 from 1995 through 2002. In recent weeks, he has been looking more like the championship-contending Gordon of old and several pundits are floating his name as Jimmie Johnson’s biggest competitor this season. While his recent efforts on this bullring have not been stellar, he has been consistent and all but one of his past dozen races there ended in lead-lap finishes. His latest three efforts were top-15s and his level of confidence is higher this week than what it was in the March Jeff Byrd 500 where he finished 14th.
Don’t forget about Matt Kenseth. He has won at Bristol in the past. In fact, he won back-to-back August night races in 2005 and 2006. When he stays out of trouble, he’s been almost as strong since. He crashed out of the 2007 Sharpie 500 and experienced trouble in the 2009 Food City 500. Every other result has been 11th or better. In fact, except when he’s experienced problems during a race, he has never finished worse than 16th in 23 career races on this bullring.
Kasey Kahne has had the rollercoaster season of his career. Kasey has had a few good runs at Bristol and has been pumped up and excited for this race. Early in the week, Kasey tweeted about how ready he was for Bristol and pumped to get the Red Bull #4 Toyota into victory lane. You will see him in victory lane before the season’s end!
Bristol will bite and tends to bite hard. Will your driver have enough courage to tame Bristol or will they run out of fueling trying to outrun her?