BRISTOL, Tenn — The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Thursday night got folks perked up. A one lane bottom groove race track that if you wanted to pass, you had to use the bumper. That’s the old Bristol. Would the old Bristol make a return for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN)?
The new Bristol has progressive banking to where you can run multiple grooves in the corners with the high lane around the top being one of the preferred lanes.
However, fans were begging for that to go away and a return to the old way. Thursday night proved that it can happen.
The track sprayed PJ1 on the bottom and 4 feet off the bottom lane to. It’s adding grip to the low lane in hopes of making this the preferred groove.
The thing is, they didn’t elect to use the resin which caught some by surprise and they also won’t reapply it as the weekend goes on either.
So what kind of race will we see on Saturday night then?
Joey Logano says that he doesn’t necessarily think that this track needs any added traction. It’s Bristol.
“I think having options to race different lane is a good thing, especially this car,” Logano said. He said that he’s almost certain that with a wider tire and pounding the concrete for 500 laps will create more rubber build up and force you to searching in different lines to avoid that.
Prior to last year’s race, I was wondering if short tracks were the wrong route to go for cutoff races. That’s because heading into the the last three seasons now, the way that the cutoff races shaped up, well it appeared to be full of fireworks. Two short tracks and a ROVAL sandwiched in between them as the three cutoff races in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Last year, the first round would have the Southern 500, Richmond and Bristol. The second round had Talladega and the ROVAL in Charlotte to close the Round of 12. Martinsville the last 2 years was the Round of 8 cut race.
This year, the cut races at Bristol and Martinsville with the ROVAL sandwiched between.
We all figured with short tracks in the playoffs that it would have led to some hurt feelings after them. Last year had some moments between Elliott and Harvick who had their spat at Bristol and it carried over into the Round of 12 cut race on the ROVAL. Then Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin had their run-in last year in Martinsville.
Do we expect more of the same this Saturday night in Bristol?
It depends. You still have to look back at 2020 and how the start of the 2021 playoffs went too for the full picture.
Round 1 cautions 2020:
Southern 500: 7 for 34 laps
Richmond: 3 for 21 laps
Bristol: 5 for 50 laps
Total: 15 for 105 laps
1,267 laps run with 1,162 of them under green (92%)
Round 1 cautions 2021 before Bristol:
Southern 500 – 11 for 52 laps
Richmond – 5 for 30 laps
Heading into this race last year, that was 16 for 82 laps.
767 laps run with 685 of them under green so far (89%).
Then all hell broke loose.
So what will we witness this time around since the two previous races this year were Darlington and Kansas?
With a more durable car and it being tougher to pass, I feel like we’ll still see chaos. With the old car, you couldn’t risk tearing it up. This time around, it’s the opposite.
“Everybody has to protect their points and the race car and not run into somebody and get a fender rub. That’s what led to Richmond’s lack of excitement and that’s what can happen at Bristol,” Kurt Busch told me last year on why the intensity was less instead of more.
With needing points and also points racing made the possibility of these races tamer in nature early because it’s not like you can push someone out of the way without potentially damaging your car too. You had to be calculated with your risks and moves. Did points racing make these races tamer and if that’s part of the equation, did NASCAR need to think about moving Bristol back to the August race to spark more controversy and drama.
“Then, that would be a question of ‘oh wait a minute maybe we need to move this race back to August when guys aren’t necessarily worried about points as much and let the rough edges dry,” Busch continued.” Dump somebody. Wreck some cars and not have to pay such a big points penalty.’
“That’s the difference in playoff racing in that everybody is making sure that they get every point possible. Therefore they are driving more cautiously.”
They didn’t end up cautious at the end of Bristol last year and with this new body style, they can rough other cars up and continue racing without the fear of it damaging the panels or creating a tire rub.
We’ll see on Saturday night. If it’s less chaos again, then the question of short tracks as cut races will arise.
There’s also the stage points factor as well.
Getting off to a good start matters this weekend in the sense that not all 16 playoff drivers start can start in the top 10, if you do the math, at the very least, six of them can’t score stage points. With advancing to the second round of not coming down to likely a mere few points, you need to position yourself up front by the end of the first stage.
Kurt Busch noted last year that for this reason, stage racing has altered your Bristol setups. 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. You can’t do that anymore. 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.
Without much practice and without a race here this spring on concrete, you better hope that from Lap 1 on, you have the right communication to work on the car as the race goes on and stay ahead of it. If not, you could score stage points in the first stage but falter as the race goes on. You need to be setup from the get go but tinker with the car as the race goes on to remain relevant.
Just 7 points separate 10th through 14th in the standings. 2 of these drivers won’t advance. Chase Briscoe is 15th and only 9 points below the cutline.
That’s why stage points are so key this weekend.