Bristol Night Race
August 15, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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I'm not going to say Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. won't win Saturday's Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but I've got a good feeling that some other driver will win in the second visit of the season to the world's fastest half-mile track.
Sounds crazy, right?
They've only combined to win 17 of the 23 races this season and Busch has seven Cup wins on the high-banked concrete layout, including the last two raced there. He's also got nine Xfinity Series wins and five Truck Series wins there. He's also got the next move in the 'anything you can do I can do better' game he and Kevin Harvick have been playing all season. Harvick just broke the tie and passed Busch with his series-leading seventh win last week at Michigan.
“Yes and no," Busch said of responding to Harvick's win. "Certainly, Harvick has been fast there, too. I think he won there a couple of years ago. But obviously, we’re kind of on a hot streak with Bristol. We love going there. I would like to think that we can go there, be fast and be able to respond, absolutely. So we’ll see what we can do getting there, and hopefully having a fast racecar and doing what we normally do there, just try to stay out of trouble. It’s a tough place to stay out of trouble. This is the first time we’ve had M&M’S White Chocolate on the car, so hoping it keeps the good-luck streak alive and we can win three Cup races in a row for the first time there.”
The last driver to win three straight at Bristol was Kyle's big brother Kurt Busch (2003-04) who has a total of five wins at Thunder Valley, the last coming in 2006, the season prior to the repaving in between races in 2007. Kyle Busch won his first Bristol Cup race in the spring of 2007 in a Hendrick Chevy in the last race under the old layout which had steeper banking at 36 degrees in the turns and only one preferred groove. Now there are two grooves and the variable banking is 24 to 30 degrees.
Busch has been the best driver at Bristol since the changes and he's fast approaching Darrell Waltrip's all-time track record with 12 wins. Because of that dominance, I can't leave him out of the wagering strategy this week and I'll consider 3/1 odds to win offered at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook extremely fair. He won't be my top play, but I'll have Busch in a situation as insurance against all my other wagers so I'll break even or show a small profit if he wins.
Kevin Harvick is one of four active drivers to have won on both layouts and grabbed his second career Cup win at Bristol in the 2016 night race. He's finished eighth or better in his last six Bristol start (seventh-place in April race, no laps led) and his 13th-place average finish is second-best among actives. The Westgate has him at 5/1 which looks outstanding, but I can't back him this week.
One thing that should also be noted in favor of Harvick doing well this week is his Dover win in May. Dover is a 1-mile high-banked concrete layout, kind of like a bigger Bristol. Because the set-up requirements are similar there's a solid correlation between the tracks. In that race, Harvick led 201 of the 400 laps and was followed by teammate Clint Bowyer who led 40 laps. Brad Keselowski led 108 laps and finished sixth. More on him later.
One driver I feel confident about crossing off my betting list is Martin Truex Jr. who has the third-most wins this season with four. He's never won at Bristol in 25 starts. In fact, he's only had two top-fives in a career there, the last coming in 2012. He was 21st in this race last season and then was 30th there in April after an accident which raised his average finish at Bristol to 20.7. It's just not his track which is why the Westgate has him at 12-to-1 odds this week.
Despite Harvick having an incredible 17 top-fives in 23 starts this season, I'm leaving him off the list. Here's a couple guys I'm rolling with this week starting with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who is 25-to-1 at the Westgate but can be found at higher odds elsewhere.
“Bristol is by far one of our best tracks statistically and my favorite track," Stenhouse said. "We had a strong run there earlier this year so hopefully we can carry the information we learned into this weekend. I think the night race at Bristol is by far one of best races of the year. Hopefully, we can get our Fastenal Ford into victory lane and secure a spot in the playoffs.”
I like the desperation angle with Stenhouse who sits 17th in points, one position away and 62 points from the final transfer spot. But he's also got the temperament, car set-up, and skills that have helped him average a 10.1 finish in 11 starts, which is the best among all active drivers. He was fourth in the April Bristol race. He's got nothing lose, he's a badass not afraid of any driver and punting someone for a chance at the Playoffs would be an afterthought. Shop around for the best price.
The rest of the bankroll is going to split between Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. I've been waiting for Keselowski and Blaney to break through this season, but the Penske teammates were outstanding in the April Bristol race even though the final results don't show it. Blaney finished 35th after being involved in a wreck while leading. He led twice for 100 laps. I was impressed with how he started fifth and took only 16 laps to pass pole-sitter Kyle Busch. Blaney is 15/1 to win this week.
Keselowski is a two-time winner and looked to have one of the best cars in the April race, something we haven't been able to say about him all season. He led four times for 67 laps and finished first in each of the first two stages. That April race was spread over two days due to rain. On Sunday, Keselowski was amazing. On Monday, he wasn't the same and spun out late in the race finishing 23rd, five laps behind. Then he went and had a great run at Dover a month later. Yes, he's ready for this and super hungry for a win. Best of all, he's 15-to-1. He'll be my top score if he wins.
Kyle Larson had his first Bristol win in sight in April and led a race-high 200 laps. He was leading six laps to go until Busch made the pass and then settled for runner-up. Between his last three Bristol starts he's led 472 laps. Like Keselowski, he's looking for his first win of the season and this could be it.
Harvick's Stewart Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch should both be very good this week too. Kurt Busch is a five-time winner at Bristol, the second-most in the series behind his younger brother. That's 12 Bristol wins combined for the Vegas brothers which ties Darrell and Michael Waltrip for the most wins by brothers -- Michael didn't contribute to any of the wins. By the way, Darrell Waltrip once won seven straight Bristol races from 1981 to 1984.
Also, keep an eye on the Hendrick drivers. They all were fast in the April race while being slow elsewhere and they've been coming up with speed lately. Jimmie Johnson's third-place finish in April still remains his best finish of the season. He won the spring race last season for his second career Bristol win. Alex Bowman was fifth in the April race as well. Chase Elliott got involved in awreck early in that race and limped around the rest of the way finishing 29th, down 27 laps.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (15/1)
2) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (3/1)
4) #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25/1)
5) #12 Ryan Blaney (15/1)