The NASCAR Cup Series closes out the Round of 16 with some short-track racing! NASCAR will race under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night! Bristol gets two races each year nowadays. Unfortunately, they drop a ton of dirt on the track for the Spring race. That one tends to be a little unpredictable. Fortunately for us, we get Bristol in its purest form this weekend. Keeping track of the current playoff standings will give you a good idea of who has “more” to drive for Saturday night. Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick are the only two drivers locked into the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr. finds himself seven points out currently after he lost a tire early at Kansas Sunday. That stunning result just adds another storyline to monitor. Let’s check out the drivers for this week’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race preview.
Bristol Motor Speedway is a bull ring of a racetrack. It is only a half-mile in length, but it features 24-28 degrees of banking in the turns, 5-9 degrees in the front stretch, and 4-8 degrees across the backstretch. The racing is phenomenal and it’s one of the more technically challenging tracks on the schedule. You need to be perfect to win at Bristol. A tire going down will be costly. A pit road mistake can be tough to overcome. A wreck will bring out a quick caution and the way these cars are set up, a wreck likely means the end of your night. Drivers can lose laps quickly at Bristol. Only a dozen drivers finished on the lead lap last year. It can be a very frustrating race for DFS so choose your driver pool wisely.
Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview: The Top Picks
Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)
Larson has kicked off the 2023 Cup Series playoffs in style. He won Darlington and finished fourth last week at Kansas where he led 99 laps. It’s no wonder why he made last week’s preview. He won this race two years ago where he led 75 laps and in three of his last eight races at Bristol, he’s led over 150 laps. Even last year he grabbed a top five and led 34 laps. He’s about as consistent and as safe as one can be as Bristol. However, he may not be as motivated as other drivers in the field. He’s already locked into the next round, but he’s Kyle Larson. He still has a great chance to win this race.
Kevin Harvick (#4 Ford)
It’s hard to find much win equity in Kevin Harvick anymore. Is he a safe bet for a top ten? Yeah, probably. But that’s who he is most weeks. Even last week he finished 11th, just outside the top ten. We just haven’t seen him dominate like he used to. He does carry plenty of experience at Bristol though. He’s raced here 42 times and has three wins and plenty of top-five finishes. In his career, he’s led almost 1,200 laps at this track. He likely doesn’t win in his final race here, but you can find some comfort in that he’s capable of maintaining the lead lap.
Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet)
Kyle Busch came through with all that position differential last week at Kansas. He started P35 and got through the field and finished seventh. He needed that run after a tough practice session where he tagged the wall and couldn’t qualify. He did manage to win the Bristol Dirt race in 2022 in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. But engine failure forced him to finish 34th in this year a year ago, but he was running top five in the first two stages. Bristol has historically been a great track for Kyle Busch. He has eight career wins here in 33 races, but the last came four years ago. Busch has led almost 2,600 laps at this track. That’s unheard of. The more recent results here aren’t in his favor. But if RCR nails the setup he can add to his lap collection.
Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet)
Elliott made some waves last week at Kansas with some retaliatory actions to teammate Kyle Larson after they had contact on pit road. It’s been a frustrating year for the 9-team. From the injury to his brief suspension, Elliott would like to forget about 2023. However, Bristol could deliver different fortunes. He has momentum after leading 47 laps and finishing sixth at Kansas. In this race a year ago, in a year where he struggled to adjust to the NextGen car, he started P23 and finished second. He even won the All-Star race at Bristol back in 2020 when NASCAR had lights under the cars. He’s shown he can get up front and lead laps here. If he keeps driving angry like last week, he could make for a strong DFS play.
Chris Buescher (#17 Ford)
Chris Buescher has four wins in the last calendar year and he claimed the first one at this very race in 2022. He led 169 laps on his way to his first win at Bristol. The NextGen car has been a great transition for Buescher as he even has three wins this year. Bristol doesn’t quite compare to too many other tracks given its unique nature. But we love win equity and he has been getting to victory lane plenty this summer. Kansas wasn’t a great race for the 17-team but he broke through here a year ago and this is a good bounce-back spot for him.
Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford)
It genuinely feels like Keselowski is knocking on the door of a win. His teammate won this race out of nowhere last year after all. In his last ten races entering Bristol, he has seven top tens. Last week at Kansas he grabbed another top ten with 23 laps led. We know his equipment is capable of winning. Buescher won this race last year and has won three times this year. In 24 career races at Bristol, he has three wins and led 109 laps last year despite Buescher getting all the glory. It may not be wise to sleep on Keselowski much longer.
Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview: The Sleepers
Ryan Preece (#41 Ford)
This is more of a gut call with Preece. In his first season in the NextGen car, he’s been better on the shorter tracks. Preece started P25 and finished 12th at Phoenix. Then he won the pole for Martinsville and finished 15th but led 135 laps. He even finished fifth over the summer at Richmond. Bristol doesn’t correlate too much to those tracks aside from the size. But still, this is historically one of his favorite tracks. It’s been two years since he raced here. But in five career points-paying races, he’s gained at least five spots of position differential in each one. He also hasn’t finished worse than 18th in any of his last four races here. Now that doesn’t sound all that great. But for where he’ll be priced, you’ll probably take some PD and a good finish.
Erik Jones (#43 Chevrolet)
Jones is trending similarly to how he started last year’s playoffs. He’s not a playoff-eligible driver, but so what? He wasn’t eligible last year when he won at Darlington. So far in this year’s edition of the playoffs, he finished tenth at Darlington and third last week at Kansas. Jones didn’t have a good showing here last year, but he does have five finishes of 11th or better. And it’s possible that with the organization parting ways with Noah Gragson, they may just be investing more resources in his car. Prior to last year, he did have three straight finishes of eighth or better at this track. Way back in 2017 he even led 260 laps in a runner-up finish. He’s trending in the right direction and deserves some exposure this weekend.
Chase Briscoe (#14 Ford)
Yes, this article is a bit heavy on these SHR cars. When has that ever worked out? But Briscoe has been pretty consistent in the Cup Series at Bristol. He finished 14th here last year after starting P2. However, he was top four in the first two stages. In his Cup Series debut here two years ago, he started P20 and finished 13th. In his last four races in the Xfinity Series at Bristol, he finished fourth or better in all of them, including a pair of runner-up finishes, and a win. Perhaps, there’s something in the water when it comes to this track, but I’m operating as if he qualifies well. And that can be a good thing here. Staying on the lead lap helps maintain track position.