Bristol Night Race: The ‘Wild Card’ In The Deck
Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC, Performance Racing Network radio, SiriusXM radio) just might be the biggest remaining unknown with the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ just three races away.
Bristol’s tall concrete banks well may determine who does or doesn’t qualify for the postseason.
The racing will be close, pressure-packed and physical. Who doesn’t remember Dale Earnhardt “rattling” Terry Labonte’s cage or Tony Stewart’s thrown helmet that bounced off Matt Kenseth’s windshield?
A few drivers – like five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has already clinched a Chase berth – know Bristol’s twists and turns won’t end their championship hopes.
Others – not so much.
Drivers ranked seventh through 11th – Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Kasey Kahne – are separated by just 20 points. Last year’s Bristol night race saw 20 cars finish all 500 laps. Among those finishing off the lead lap was Carl Edwards, who needed a solid finish to close crucial ground on the points leaders.
He didn’t get it and ultimately failed to reach the Chase.
Saturday’s race could be huge for what’s now become a crowded field of four current Chase Wild Card hopefuls scoring victories in 2013. Although Tony Stewart remains eligible by virtue of a top-20 points position, Stewart-Haas Racing has pronounced its injured driver out for the remainder of the year.
Spring Bristol winner Kasey Kahne, attempting to become the first to score a sweep since Kyle Busch in 2009, would virtually lock up one Wild Card spot with his third victory of the year. That might be moot since Kahne is just four points out of the top 10.
The same could be said for Martin Truex Jr., 10 points out of the top 10. Truex finished 12th at Bristol in March and 11th a year ago. The New Jersey native has only two top-five finishes at the track but they are good ones – third in the spring of 2012 and second in the 2011 night race.
Neither Michigan winner Joey Logano nor Indianapolis winner Ryan Newman has been able to score a Bristol victory. Logano’s No. 22 Penske Racing Ford, however, is owned by Roger Penske. Penske Racing is No. 2 in the Bristol win column with 10 trips to Victory Lane – most recently in spring of 2012 with reigning series champion Brad Keselowski.
Martin-For-Stewart Shakes Up Owner Chase Possibilities
No owner whose driver failed to reach the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ has ever qualified for postseason riches.
The 2013 season could prove to be the exception to the rule – and in a most unexpected manner.
Heading into Bristol’s IRWIN Tools Night race, it’s business as usual. Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team and Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota team hold the provisional Wild Cards.
Both could make the Chase as top-10 finishers in the regular season. Kahne and Truex are four and 10 points, respectively, behind 10th-place Greg Biffle.
Should they advance, the door would open for two teams which have undergone massive changes in the past few days. The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet stands third in owner Wild Card standings having scored the same number of points – 653 – as the No. 56 team.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart is finished for the season as he recuperates from a broken leg suffered earlier this month in an Iowa sprint car accident. His replacement for 12 of the remaining 13 races is Mark Martin who, teamed with Michael Waltrip and Brian Vickers, has given the No. 55 MWR Toyota a shot at a Chase owner Wild Card.
The No. 55 is sixth in owner Wild Card standings on the strength of now-regular driver Vickers’ victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The irony is that Martin will battle to keep his new team ahead of his old organization, as well as the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano and No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman.
It’s just another reason why the Race for the Chase truly won’t be over until the checkered flag falls on Sept. 7 in Richmond.
Chase Clinches: One Down, 11 To Go – And A Bunch Might Come At Bristol
Jimmie Johnson has stood alone for two weeks as the only driver to clinch a spot in the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Already guaranteed a top-10 spot – and the three bonus points per win that go with it – Johnson will enter the Chase with at least 2,012 points. After race No. 26 at Richmond, all 12 Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000, but only the top 10 will have three points added to their total for each victory over the first 26 races. Johnson currently has four victories (both Daytona events, Martinsville and Pocono).
In terms of Chase clinches, expect a few drivers to join Johnson this weekend at Bristol.
Three drivers can clinch a top-10 spot: Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick. The magic number for a top-10 clinch is 97 points; leaving Bristol, anyone 97 points ahead of 11th will clinch a top-10 spot.
Bowyer is currently 113 points ahead of 11th. He is guaranteed to clinch a top-10 spot by finishing 12th or better, or 13th and at least one lap led, or 14th and most laps led. Edwards is currently 103 points ahead of 11th. He is guaranteed a top-10 clinch with a win or runner up; or third and at least one lap led, or fourth and most laps led. Harvick is currently 90 points ahead of 11th. He’ll clinch by improving upon his current cushion by seven points.
A number of drivers can clinch at least a Wild Card spot this weekend. Because they own multiple wins this season, after this weekend, a few drivers could fall out of the top 10 yet still be guaranteed a Wild Card spot after race No. 26. The Wild Card spots go to the two drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.
Matt Kenseth, who has four wins but has yet to clinch a top-20 spot, can clinch at least a Wild Card this weekend (a win would guarantee it). The same goes for Kyle Busch (three wins) and Kasey Kahne (two wins).
Bristol’s Dominant Trio Must Rise Yet Again
Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race may not be the last stand for three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. But if Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski can’t rise to the occasion here; then where?
They are among Bristol Motor Speedway’s most successful competitors.
Gordon and Busch have each won five times at the .533-mile concrete oval. Keselowski counts two victories in the past four races with a third-place finish in March’s event thrown in for good measure.
This is a week for Keselowski and Busch to consolidate recent gains. For Gordon, it’s an opportunity to regroup after several disappointing races.
Keselowski (eighth) and Busch (ninth) are eight and six points, respectively, ahead of 11th. Gordon is 14th – 26 points outside the top 10.
Gordon’s recent statistics are best among the trio: second-best series Driver Rating (100.6), second-fastest Average Green Flag Speed (114.863 mph) and series-high 6,974 laps among the top 15 over the last 17 Bristol races.
A year ago, Gordon found himself in a similar situation – 16th in points – but with finishes of third, third and second in the final three races of the regular season qualified for the Chase.
“We have a good stretch of tracks ahead and we have to do everything possible to make the most of these races,” he said.
Kahne Motivated By Late-Season Pressures
Having an insurance policy lessens the immediate pressure.
And if you’re Kasey Kahne with two victories – one of them this spring at Bristol Motor Speedway – this isn’t a week to stress over “will I or won’t I” make the Chase. Kahne and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet are better than 50/50 proposition to make NASCAR’s postseason. They currently hold the first Wild Card entry and stand 11th, four points outside the top 10.
“I’ve (gone) through it; I kind of enjoy it. I kind of enjoy the pressure, like to have to be perfect that weekend, things like that.” said Kahne, who’s finished in the top three six times but has suffered three, accident-caused DNFs.
A year ago, Kahne overcame a difficult early season to make the Chase. He came on strong finishing fourth in the final standings. Kahne sees no reason this can’t happen again – especially if he can keep his Chevrolet SS out of harm’s way.
“It’s a tough part of the season,” he said. “But it’s kind of what we’re all here for, too, to step up when times are tough. I know we have a really strong team. I think we’ll be in a really good spot, must to put those final 10 (races) together. That’s what it’s all about.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Two top-five milestones are on tap this weekend. Carl Edwards continues to hunt for his 100th career top-five finish, which would make him the 36th driver to reach 100 top fives and tie him with Geoff Bodine on the all-time list. After a fifth-place finish at Michigan, Clint Bowyer is on the verge of scoring his 50th career top five. He would be the 69th driver to do so. … Ryan Truex will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut, driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet at Bristol. Truex, brother of Martin Truex Jr., has made 35 career NASCAR Nationwide starts and three NASCAR Camping World Truck starts in his NASCAR career. He was also the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion in 2009-10.
Could Championship-Hunt Experience Determine Champion?
Let’s assume that the NASCAR Nationwide Series points battle has narrowed to only five contenders: Sam Hornish Jr., Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers. With only 18 points separating them, all five drivers have a very realistic shot at capturing the title.
The determining factor in this year’s championship battle could come down to one thing – championship-hunt experience.
As the series heads to Bristol for Friday night’s Food City 250, four of the five drivers in the top five have some type of championship battle experience.
The odd man out is Smith, currently tied for third (-15), who returned to the series fulltime after six years of giving it a go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In seven years in the top series, seven previous years in the NNS (of which only one was fulltime before this season) and five years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he had never been in the title conversation. His best points finish in one of NASCAR’s three national series was 20th in 2006.
Although Hornish, the current points leader, has never really been embroiled in a battle for the points lead during his tenure in NASCAR (he finished fourth in 2012, but never made it higher than third in points during the season), he won the IZOD IndyCar Series title three times – 2001, 2002 and 2006.
Sadler gained a lot of experience dueling for the title the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his efforts fell short both years, finishing runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the final standings.
Dillon was in the thick of the NNS championship hunt last season up until the very end, ultimately finishing third. The year before, he held off a hard-charging Johnny Sauter to capture the 2011 NCWTS title.
Vickers, who will be pulling double-duty for most of the remaining weekends, won the NNS championship in 2003. This could be his last chance at another NNS crown since he’ll be returning to the NSCS fulltime in 2014.
The points battle is so close that one poor performance could shake things up among those in contention, as evident by Dillon dropping from first to fourth at Mid-Ohio. With two shorts tracks (Bristol and Richmond) remaining on the schedule, no lead is safe.
Penske Racing’s No. 22 Claims Top Spot
For most of the summer only one team has held the top spot in the NASCAR Nationwide Series owners’ championship points standings – the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That was until last Saturday at Mid-Ohio when the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford claimed the position with a 22-point cushion.
The No. 54 JGR team took its first owners’ lead after the season’s sixth race at Texas, which Kyle Busch won. The point margin reached its zenith of 51 points in mid-July at New Hampshire.
Since then, the drivers of the No. 22 Ford have gradually chipped away at the No. 54’s lead knocking it down to five points entering Mid-Ohio’s road race. AJ Allmendinger’s win in the inaugural NNS event at the Lexington, Ohio, road course, propelled the No. 22 into the top spot in the owners’ points standings.
When the series travels to Bristol for Saturday’s Food City 250, Penske Racing and the No. 22 will arrive on a hot streak having won four of the last five events. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr. have combined for eight wins in 2013, seven of them coming in the No. 22.
Tryson To Man The Pit Box For Piquet
Veteran crew chief Pat Tryson returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend at Bristol to call the shots for the No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Nelson Piquet Jr. Piquet won last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at the .533-mile track.
In 11 previous races atop the pit box in the series (2005 and 2007), Tryson’s cars have visited Victory Lane twice – both with Mark Martin in 2005. He spent 17 years as a crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning eight times with three different drivers – Elliott Sadler, Martin and Kurt Busch. His first national series win came at Bristol with Sadler in 2001.
Tryson was the crew chief for David Reutimann’s No. 83 BK Racing Toyota in the NSCS for the first 19 races of 2013 before leaving the team.
Chris Carrier, Piquet’s former crew chief, will serve as the crew chief this weekend in the NCWTS for the No. 96 Chevrolet driven by Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
Ty Dillon announced he will move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series fulltime in 2014. He will compete in both the NCWTS and NNS races at Bristol Motor Speedway for Richard Childress Racing. … NASCAR Canadian Tire Series driver Martin Roy of Napierville, Quebec, will attempt to make his first national series start this weekend in the Food City 250.
France Family’s Kennedy Makes Truck Debut
Ben Kennedy will want to be considered just another driver attempting to make his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race when Bristol Motor Speedway hosts the UNOH 200 on Wednesday night. The exception is Kennedy is not just another driver.
Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., will make his national series debut this Wednesday night in his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at BMS.
Kennedy is no stranger to racing at Bristol. His 42 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West starts include two trips to the .533-mile track with finishes of 10th and sixth in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
His mother is International Speedway Corporation President Lesa France Kennedy. Her son will be the first member of the France family to compete in a NASCAR national series event (NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series). His great grandfather raced stock cars prior to the creation of NASCAR.
Kennedy is a two-time winner this season in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition and a winner in the first NASCAR-sanctioned oval race in Europe last year in Tours, France in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. His NASCAR K&N Pro Series wins came at Five Flags Speedway in April and at Bowman Gray Stadium in June. The latter victory was special in that his grandmother, Betty Jane France, is a Winston-Salem, N.C., native and a Miss Bowman Grey Stadium prior to meeting her future husband Bill France Jr.
Kennedy will make three more starts in the trucks this year. The remaining races on his 2013 schedule are Iowa, Chicagoland and Homestead-Miami Speedways.
Peters Set High Standards In Last Year’s Bristol Victory
Timothy Peters led all 204 laps en route to victory a year ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He already has one win this year and he will go for his second consecutive win at the challenging .533-mile track on Wednesday night.
Peters, who has six career wins in the series in 152 starts, is currently on a streak of five consecutive seasons with at least one win. Peters picked up his first win of the year when he defended his 2012 win at Iowa Speedway, and a Bristol repeat would match his career-best win total in a season of two wins.
In eight previous starts at BMS, Peters also has two top-five and four top-10 finishes in addition to his victory.
Previous Bristol truck winners entered are Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday Jr. Busch won three consecutive times (2008-10) while Hornaday won back-to-back in 1997-98. Hornaday led all 200 laps in 1997.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Bristol native Nate Monteith looks to make his third career NCWTS start and first since 2009 this week…. Ken Schrader returns to the series this week in his first start since he made history winning the pole at Eldora Speedway earlier this season. Schrader has one Bristol pole in 2004. … Brad Keselowski will do triple-duty this week in Bristol, competing in NASCAR Camping World Truck, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events.
Modifieds Invade Bristol
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour come together for the annual grudge match at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Wednesday in the TitanRoof 150. Forty-three cars are entered for the 36-car race.
The event will be telecast live on Fox Sports 2 with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
NASCAR Next driver Ryan Preece holds the points lead in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but reigning champion Doug Coby on the power of a pair of recent wins lurks just 16 points back. In the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, George Brunnhoelzl III, looking for his third straight tour title and fourth overall, has a 21-point advantage on Kyle Ebersole. Ryan Newman and Steve Park will compete and look to add another victory to their racing résumé.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will make its inaugural visit to Virginia International Raceway on Saturday for the Biscuitville 125. Twelve of the 25 entrants in the race have no road-course experience, while the likes of Dylan Kwasniewski, Dale Quarterly and Andrew Ranger have had significant success at road courses.
After a Western Washington date at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West shifts its attention to the eastern side of the state with a Saturday race at Spokane County Raceway in Airway Heights. Rookie Dylan Lupton is looking for a second straight series victory, but three-time series champion Eric Holmes won in the series’ last visit to the half-mile oval in 2011.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- Next Race: IRWIN Tools Night Race
- The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, August 24
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ABC, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)
NASCAR Nationwide Series
- Next Race: Food City 250
- The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
- The Date: Friday, August 23
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 133.25 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- Next Race: UNOH 200
- The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
- The Date: Wednesday, Aug. 21
- The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 200 miles (106.6 laps)