Saturday night is the night. For the first time ever, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN) is now a cutoff race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Fireworks should ensue on an off the track on Saturday night at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway.
“It’s our season,” Ryan Blaney said. “I caution those in front of me. I’m not going to be behind them very long if we’re faster than them.”
That’s Bristol Baby!
Blaney enters Saturday night’s race last among playoff drivers as he’s 27 points behind the cutoff line. He knows that while the race isn’t a must win, it’s close.
Same for Matt DiBenedetto who’s 25 points out. He said his first two races of the postseason were terrible but this is Bristol and this is his best track. He agreed with Blaney that he’s not necessarily going to wreck anyone in front of him because that could ruin your night too, but you can use your bumper to push someone out of your way and not ruins each others race as well. He’s not afraid to do that.
Will you be able to though? The spring Bristol race looked like the Bristol of old. The All-Star race in July looked like a parade. Which one will we see this weekend?
Kurt Busch says that he thinks you’ll see the Bristol of old. See, the All-Star race in July may have been under the lights but the traction compound caused the concrete racing surface to feel like they were racing on ice. You just couldn’t get close to anyone. This weekend, he notes that you have a Truck, Xfinity and ARCA race before the Cup race even goes off on Saturday and that usually that helps the grip levels. Plus, with 500 laps, the track will come in as the races goes on too, meaning the old Bristol should be back for this race.
Despite that, he does caution if needing points and points racing may make this race tamer early because it’s not like you can push someone out of the way without potentially damaging your car too. You have to be calculated with your risks and moves on Saturday night. Does points racing make this race tamer which he wondered if it does, will this race move back to August?
Or, it can do the opposite and make this race more intense and prove this track belongs where it’s at on the schedule.
Busch also notes that in the past, you used to set your car up for the second half of the race. You’d go into it with a car that you knew would be good from Lap 250 on. This year, you can’t do that. You have to set it up for Lap 1 because of how crucial stage points are. You can’t give them up.
The playoff bubble is tight and stage points can be the reason you move onto the Round of 12 or are eliminated instead.
So, you set up for Lap 1 and hope you have the right communication to work on the car as the race goes on and stay ahead of it.
DiBenedetto says that this race is comforting for him as this is the best shot he has of winning all season. He’s less nerves this week than he was in the regular season finale at Daytona.
Joey Logano notes how he thinks he is there in terms of being a championship front runner. He hasn’t won a race since before the pandemic but is firing on all cylinders now and the feel that he’s had of racing in the Championship 4 in the past, he feels it now. They’re there. He starts second.
His teammate in Brad Keselowski won the spring race and starts on the pole. He benefitted in May from late race contract between Logano and Chase Elliott. Logano doesn’t see any implications from that move happening again on Saturday night in form of a payback. You race how you want to be raced and the playoffs are too important to do any funny business in a form of revenge he notes.
So, what do we get on Saturday night?
An intense race.