Bass Pro Shops Preview
August 15, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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Despite one of the three co-favorites winning Sunday at Michigan, I think I really enjoyed what I was watching. Different pit sequences and different tire strategies allowed more cars to become equal at the final stages. There was a lot of drama and it took a killer nose dive on the final restart by the third-place driver, Kyle Larson, and fresher tires to get the win.
But I almost got to see Erik Jones (third-place) win for the first time. Ryan Newman finished fourth and his second win of the season would have also been a thrill -- we have to relish moments of old guard drivers still mattering in this series. Trevor Bayne (fifth) and Chris Buescher (sixth) were right there as well and almost raced themselves into the Playoffs. There was a lot going on in those final stages and the allure of the Playoffs for drivers not yet eligible added to the drama. It was fun and this week's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway should also provide the same type of thrills.
Just three more races remain until NASCAR's version of the Playoffs begin Sept. 17 at Chicagoland and the current playoff bracket is crowded with 13 drivers qualified due to winning a race and another three trying to make it on points. Chase Elliott is currently sitting safe in 14th position, followed by Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. Sitting 31-points out -- outside looking in to the playoffs -- is Clint Bowyer in 17th-place.
So what we're going to see Saturday night at Bristol's high-banked, half-mile layout is a bunch of guys with differing strategies. For Kenseth, he'd love to win for the fifth time in his career there, but making the playoffs is the most important thing for him right now. A win does get him in, but so do points, and he hasn't won all season so it appears easier to manage his points situation than hope for a win despite his car running better lately.
Bowyer might be trying the same thing because he's been consistent lately as well, but it's apparent that his car truly isn't fast enough to win races despite a few runner-ups. He can point race right now because he's not too far behind.
The desperate drivers are in an entirely different category. They have to win or they won't be eligible for the playoffs. Joey Logano is in desperation mode and has to win. Erik Jones ran well enough to win last week at Michigan, and he also needs a win to get in. So does Daniel Suarez, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The thing I like to look at with the second Bristol race is not only review what happened in the first Bristol race back in April, but also review what happened in the June 4 race at Dover International Speedway which is a half-mile longer, but is concrete and high banked. It's a bigger Bristol, faster, but balancing the car is set up similar for both layouts.
The most dominant car between both of those races this year was last week's winner Kyle Larson. He led a race-high 202 laps at Bristol and finished sixth. At Dover, he led a race-high 241 laps and finished second. It appears that the only tracks Larson can win on over his career are 2-mile tracks. He's taken three straight at Michigan and won at Fontana earlier this season. Four straight on just 2-mile tracks? The oddest part is that with all horsepower that he hasn't won at any of the plentiful 1.5-mile tracks yet.
Anyway, back to the correlation between Bristol and Dover. Jimmie Johnson won both of those races. He's the best all-time at Dover with 11 wins, but his Bristol win was just the second of his career there. However, he's been the best there in the past six races with a 6.8 average finish. Saturday's race will be the third straight race at Bristol that they'll be putting on a TrackBite substance on the surface that gives more grip to the lower groove. The drivers all like it, and I think I do as a viewer too. It's not quite 2004 racing at Bristol, but fun in it's own new way.
The Busch brothers are the active Bristol leaders with five wins each. The elder Busch, Kurt, got his five wins in bunches early in his career. Then Kyle Busch got four of his wins within five races between 2009 and 2011. But neither have done much of anything in their past 12 starts there, which is kind of an oddity. Kyle Busch is fast every week on every type of track. He'll be great here in Friday's practices and qualifying and on race day.
A long shot to watch for this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Even with crummy cars, he's still managed a 10.4 average finish in nine starts, which include two runner-ups. Now, the Roush Fenway program is coming along nicely. He's got two wins in plate races this season.
This should be a track that both Logano and Junior fare well at. Junior's only win came in 2004 and Logano won in 2014 and 2015. Logano's Penske teammate Brad Keselowski also has two wins on his resume.
Earnhardt Jr. is in desperation mode and I don't know why the team wouldn't clone Johnson's winning set-up for the No. 88. Step in Rick Hendrick, please. Three races left for Junior to win and make the playoffs. All hands should be on deck -- from all four Hendrick teams -- for a teammate that's about to retire. I don't even care if Chad Knaus gets creative with a set-up that risks not passing inspection. Make it happen, guys. Do what it takes. Come on!.
I'm expecting Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to lead the most laps again -- Truex led the second most laps between Dover and Bristol -- and then for something wild to happen in the last few laps. Let's call it an overtime race as well.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (5/1)
2) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)
3) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (12/1)