DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There are few tracks on the schedule where one driver dominates the way Kyle Busch has at this week’s venue, Bristol Motor Speedway.
Last year Busch swept all three NASCAR Fall races at the track – from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. It was an extraordinary and historic accomplishment. He has 21 Bristol wins in all – seven in Cup, nine in Xfinity and five in trucks – a total best among all active drivers.
But this weekend, Busch is curtailing his effort to the Xfinity and Cup races – primarily he has his sights set on Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race (at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In an amazing season of what often feels like, "tag-you’re-it" among the Monster Energy Series’ Big 3 – Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – there is ample reason to believe in Busch’s great motivation to keep matching Harvick’s victories. Harvick scored his seventh win of the season last week at Michigan, Busch has six wins on the year. Truex has four.
And yet as motivated as these drivers are to carry on a season-for-the-ages, there are also a couple competitors still racing for their Playoff lives. With three races remaining to set the Playoff field, Alex Bowman currently holds the final transfer position – with a 62-point advantage over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Paul Menard is 70-points behind Bowman and Daniel Suarez is 82-points back.
Looking at the three challengers there is reason to understand their cautious optimism in the final three-race push for Playoff contention.
Stenhouse is the best among them at this week’s stop at the half-mile Bristol bullring. He has six top-10 finishes in 11 starts and four of them are top-fives. Twice he has finished runner-up (Fall of 2016, Spring of 2014). He was fourth this spring. Daniel Suarez has never finished in the top-10 in three Bristol starts, but he led five laps and finished 11th there in April – a career-best. Menard has six top-10s and a solo top-five finish at Bristol. He’s led a respectable 104 laps there, but been out front for only four laps in his last nine races there.
The track "Too Tough to Tame," Darlington Raceway certainly lives up to its name when it comes to these three drivers. None of them have a top-five or top-10 there. Stenhouse, driver of the No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford, was 29th in the race last year. Menard’s best finish in 11 starts is 13th – six years ago. And Suarez, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, crashed out of his only start last year, finishing 38th.
No doubt, Menard has Indy circled on his NASCAR schedule every year. It is the only venue he has won a Cup race – earning the 2011 victory. The driver of the No. 21 Woods Brothers Ford has only two top-10s in 11 starts. Of his 22 total laps led at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – 21 of them came in his win.
Suarez finished seventh in his only start at Indy last year. Stenhouse is still looking for his first top-10. In five starts, his best effort was 12th in 2016. He crashed out last year and finished 35th.
TOP OF THE HEAP
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is in the midst of such a competitive season that five drivers are still challenging for the regular season title and valuable 15 playoff points that goes to the very top of the standings.
Rookie Christopher Bell, a four-time winner, holds a 17-point edge over perennial championship favorite Elliott Sadler and fan favorite Daniel Hemric. Cole Custer in 19 points behind and three-race winner Justin Allgaier is 20-points behind Bell.
It all could make for an especially action-packed Bristol Motor Speedway Friday night. Of those contenders, Sadler boasts two wins. Bell finished 29th in his Bristol debut earlier this season. Custer won the pole position this spring and has top-10 finishes in two of his three Bristol starts.
TRUCKS CROWN REGULAR SEASON CHAMP TONIGHT
As if Camping World Truck Series racing wasn’t exciting enough at the Bristol Motor Speedway "bullring," Thursday night’s regular season cap, the UNOH 200 will officially set the Playoff field and crown the regular season champion.
Two-time series champion and four-time 2018 race winner Johnny Sauter needs only to take the green flag (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to officially earn regular season top honors.
But the veteran is wisely preparing himself for the bigger picture – there’s a championship trophy to hoist following the Nov. 16 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And the competition for that podium is as intense as it’s ever been.
Brett Moffitt collected his fourth victory of the season last weekend in Michigan to tie Sauter’s regular season trophy haul. He will be second when the Playoff points are reset for the opening round of the postseason, Aug. 26 on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park road course.
Sauter will earn a 15-point bonus for winning the regular season and points will be distributed in a waning order throughout the top of the standings.
"We’ve had a great season to this point, and we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished," the 26-year old Moffitt said. "I’ve said all year we don’t have the most people or the most equipment, but [crew chief] Scott [Zipadelli] and our entire team has made the most of what we do have. To have four wins is great, but there’s a bigger prize out there and that’s where our focus is."
Sauter, 40, and Moffitt certainly are motivated to win the regular season finale and make a strong statement as the Playoffs begin.
Sauter won three of his races in a four-week span early in the season and has five top-10s in the seven races since his last win at Texas in April. He was runner-up to Moffitt last weekend in Michigan in the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet. He’s winless in 10 Bristol truck starts with a best showing of runner-up in 2011. He has finished top-10 in the last five races there, however.
Moffitt has won two of the last five races in the No. 16 Hattori Motorsports Toyota. He’s only competed in one truck series race at Bristol and finished runner-up in 2016.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tenn.)
The Date: Saturday, Aug. 18
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 125),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 250), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 500)
What to Watch For: In the last three Bristol races, Jimmie Johnson has scored the most points. He won there in 2017 and his 19 top-10s is most among drivers entered this week. …Since 2003, eight drivers have won multiple times at Bristol, including defending race winner Kyle Busch (seven), his older brother Kurt Busch (five), Matt Kenseth (four), Carl Edwards (four), Johnson (two), Kevin Harvick (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and Joey Logano (two). … Logano is the last driver to win in a Ford (Fall, 2015). It is Ford’s only win in the last seven Bristol races. Toyota has four wins in that span, Chevy has two. … Kyle Busch’s 2,233 laps led at Bristol is more than double that of any other driver entered this weekend. Johnson is next on the list with 886. … Logano leads all drivers in average starting position (7.737) at the track. He and Erik Jones are the only two active drivers to earn their career first pole positions at Bristol. …Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman lead all active drivers with three pole positions each at Bristol. …The deepest in the field a winner has started is 38th by Elliott Sadler in 2001. … The polesitter has won at Bristol 21 times, making that first starting spot the winningest starting spot. … Kevin Harvick leads this week’s field with five runner-up finishes. …Two of Kyle Busch’s wins represent the two closest margins of victory in Bristol Cup race history. He beat Jeff Burton by .064-second in March, 2007 marking the closest finish ever. He beat Mark Martin by .098-second in August of 2009.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Food City 300
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tenn.)
The Date: Friday, Aug. 17
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 159.9 miles (300 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 300)
What to Watch For: With five races remaining to set the Playoff field, Ross Chastain holds on to the final transfer spot. He is 49 points up on Michael Annett. … Points leader, series rookie Christopher Bell has a series high four wins in 2018 and second-year Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer has won a series best four pole positions. …Justin Allgaier, last week’s winner, has a series high four runner-up finishes in addition to his three race wins. He has also led the most laps (504) among fulltime Xfinity drivers. …. Custer and Elliott Sadler lead the title chasers with 17 top-10 finishes through the opening 21 races of the year. … Justin Allgaier has the top Driving Rating (107.2) among fulltime Xfinity drivers at Bristol. … There will be a good-size Cup presence in Friday night’s race. Defending race winner Kyle Busch along with Ty Dillon, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are all entered. … Hemric has the best Average Finish (5.0 in three starts) at Bristol, followed by Tyler Reddick (9.0 in two starts) and Allgaier (11.5 in 15 starts).
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: UNOH 200
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Thursday, Aug. 16
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 106.6 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 55),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 110), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
What to Watch For: This is the regular season finale and will set the eight driver series Playoff field. … There are currently six winners that have automatically earned Playoff positions. … Veteran and two-time series champion Matt Crafton is still looking for his first victory of the season. He has not had a winless season since 2012. … Two of the series most promising young talents, rookies Myatt Snider and Todd Gilliland may be considered wildcards for this weekend’s Bristol race. Neither would qualify for the Playoffs based on their current points positions, but both are candidates to win this weekend and both are making their series debut at the track. Gilliland is coming off a season best fifth-place at Michigan. And Snider’s last top-10 came at Chicago, five races ago. … Harrison Burton is entered this weekend – his first series race since Iowa, where he won the pole position and finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in as many races this year. … Stefan Parsons, son of FOX commentator Phil Parsons, will make his series debut this week driving the No. 15 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports. … Chevrolet leads the manufacturer standings by three-points over Toyota.
— NASCAR Wire Service —