Bristol Night RaceThe Busch brothers only have one win combined between 35 Cup starts on their home track -- Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but when it comes to Bristol Motor Speedway's high banked .533-mile bullring they feel right at home combining to win 14 times in the Cup Series, which includes the last four races run there.
“I remember watching when I was a kid – I wasn’t there racing, yet – watching Kurt win his first race at Bristol and then having the epic battle with Jimmy Spencer there,’’ Kyle Busch said. “That was a lot of fun to watch and see how Kurt was able to get his first win there and, of course, the years that I’ve been able to put cars in Victory Lane or wishing I could go back and get a few more of those wins that I missed out on – I’d have a heck of a lot more than just eight.’’
Kurt dominated at Bristol in his early years once winning four of five races there from 2002-04 and would win again in 2006 to give him five wins in his first 11 starts. That was Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace type of stuff, but then Bristol changed the track to variable banking opening up a high groove and Kurt wouldn't win there against until this race last season.
But the changing of the track is kind of Kyle took the baton and ran with it. He won on the old layout once and then seven other wins on the new layout, including three of the last four races there, the last coming in April. His eight Bristol wins and 2,303 laps led are the most by all active drivers. He's also got nine Xfinity Series wins and five Truck Series giving him 22 total wins between the three major NASCAR series. On two instances he has swept the weekend winning races in Trucks, Xfinity and Cup.
Kyle Busch is definitely the pre-race story for Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol and his excellence has made the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook post him as the 5/2 betting favorite (Bet $100 to win $250) to win again. His four wins this season are tied for the most in the series, but that fourth win (Pocono) was a long time ago. Nine races have passed since his last win and he doesn't have a top-five in his last four starts overall. By the high standards he's set for himself, it wouldn't be too out of line to say he's slumping.
The other Cup driver with four wins on the season is Martin Truex Jr., but seven races have passed since he last won (Sonoma). He's listed at 7-to-1 odds to win, but when looking at his Bristol record with a 20th-place average finish in 27 starts you have to wonder why his odds are so low.
“If you look at the stats, Bristol hasn’t been one of our better tracks, but we’ve had so many crazy things happen over the years that cost us good finishes," Truex said. "Like last year, we were racing for the lead in the last 100 laps and get wrecked. Then in the spring this year, we made our way to the top five and were in a good spot but had a loose wheel."
He's got the Bass Pro Shops race sponsor on his hood so that's something to pump the team up, but only two top-fives there in his career blows me away, especially within the past four years when he's been an elite driver in the series. His best finish between his last four starts has been 17th.
The positive if siding with Truex this week is that his win at Richmond in April was his first short track win in his Cup career. That same race package with engines producing 750 horsepower and no aero ducts is being used this week. Three of his four wins have come when using this week's package.
The driver that has been the most consistent with this race package has Denny Hamlin with seven top-fives in eight races. None of his three wins on the season have come using this package but chances are he's going to be in the mix like he was at Bristol in the spring when he finished fifth.
“As we did in Michigan, the FedEx team did a great job adjusting from the last time we were there,' Hamlin said. "The fastest car won the race, speed-wise, but I feel like we had a great FedEx Camry and performed better than last time. We secured a top-five finish last time out at Bristol, so our team is hard at work looking at what we can improve and how we can put ourselves in the best position to win.”
The second time around on tracks has offered huge rewards for Hamlin's team the last two times with a win at Pocono and runner-up last week at Michigan. Hamlin has finished in the top-five a series-leading 12 times, including his last five starts on the schedule. His last Bristol win was in 2012.
Busch, Truex, and Hamlin have combined to win 11 of the 23 races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, but Kevin Harvick has now won his first two races for Stewart-Haas Racing on the season within the last four races.
“So, we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to overcome to get to this point,’’ Harvick said. “But it’s kind of like last year – we started off on fire, we won eight races and then didn’t win the championship. In the end, you want to win that championship and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”
Harvick and his team have found something to get the team over the hump and Bristol is a place he's won at in all three series, including two Cup wins. He's had top-10s in seven of his last eight starts there which includes a 2016 win. He's being offered at 7-to-1 odds which is more appealing than Truex at the same odds.
There are a couple of drivers with longer odds that should be considered. The first is Ryan Blaney at 18/1 odds just because he's been very good with this race package with six top-fives in the eight races, which includes April at Bristol where he led a race-high 158 laps before finishing a career-best fourth-place. He's led at least 100 laps in all three of his Bristol starts since joining Team Penske last season.
Chase Elliott is listed at high 20/1 odds to win despite being the active leader with a 12.4 average finish between his seven starts. He started from the pole in April's Bristol race, led 38 laps, and finished 11th. In this race last season he started second, led 112 laps, and finished a career-best third. Beyond how well he's done at Bristol the reason to support this week rests with the race package being used. He finished second at Martinsville using it after leading 49 laps. He led a race-high 145 laps at Dover before finishing fifth. And then he led almost every lap (80) at Watkins Glen to get the win. Watkins Glen is the last race using this package.
If there was any track I would compare to Dover it would be Bristol despite Dover being a half-mile longer and faster.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
3) #12 Ryan Blaney (18/1)
4) #1 Kurt Busch (20/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
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