GFT Facts & Stats Friday: NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol
15 September 2023
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News
BRISTOL, TN — Tensions are high, the point standings are tight, and once the stadium lights illuminate the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile’ expect nothing less than the greatest stock car drivers in the universe to battle it out in spectacular fashion in Race 3 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs- the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, this Saturday, Sept. 17 at 6:35 p.m. ET
With this weekend’s highly anticipated event serving as the elimination race for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 16, a lot is on the line for the postseason contenders. Two Playoff drivers have locked themselves into the Round of 12 by virtue of their wins in the first two races of the Round of 16 — Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson (Darlington) and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick — leaving 10 spots still up for grabs on Saturday.
The 2023 season marks the fourth-time Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted the third race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and this Saturday’s race is just the fourth Cup Series postseason event at the 0.533-mile track all-time (2020–2023). From 2004–2019, Bristol Motor Speedway was scheduled as the 24th race of the regular season. Bristol Motor Speedway is the fifth different track in NASCAR Cup Series postseason history to host the third race of the Playoffs; joining Talladega Superspeedway (2004–2005), Kansas Speedway (2006–2010), Dover Motor Speedway (2011–2017) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (2018–2019).
A total of 15 different drivers have won the third race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2004–2021), led by Jimmie Johnson (2008, 2013), Greg Biffle (2007, 2010), Tony Stewart (2006, 2009) and Kevin Harvick (2015, 2020) with two wins each.
In total, non-Playoff drivers have won the third race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs four times — twice at Kansas (Tony Stewart was 11th in points in 2006 and Greg Biffle was 14th in points in 2007), once at Talladega (Dale Jarrett was 14th in points in 2005), and once at Bristol Motor Speedway (Chris Buescher was 21st in points in 2022). A non-Playoff driver has not won a Playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2018–2019) or at Dover Motor Speedway (2011–2017) when they were scheduled as the third race in the Playoffs.
In total, the winner of the third race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has gone on to win the title four times; en yet is has only happened once (2021) since the elimination-style format was instituted in 2014. In 2021, Kyle Larson won the third race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway and went on to win his first series title. His Bristol Playoff victory was the first of a record tying five postseason wins in a single Playoff run (Bristol, Charlotte RC, Texas, Kansas, Phoenix) — tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, who put up five Playoff wins in his 2011 championship run.
All the NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity at Bristol Motor Speedway begins this weekend with practice and Busch Light Pole Qualifying, and both events can be viewed on USA at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 15.
Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota wins the pole award during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Track Length: 0.533-Mile
Race Length: (500 laps = 266.5 miles)
First Race: July 30, 1961 — Volunteer 500
Banking: Turns vary from 24 to 28 degrees, frontstretch varies from 5 to 9 degrees, backstretch varies from 4–8 degrees
Frontstretch: 650 feet
Backstretch: 650 feet
Qualifying & Race Records
Qualifying: Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 131.713 mph (14.568 sec.); April 7, 2019
Race: Charlie Glotzbach; Chevrolet, 101.074 mph (2:38:12); July 11, 1971
Most Wins: 12 — Darrell Waltrip
Most Poles: 9 — Cale Yarborough, Mark Martin
Most Top Fives: 26 — Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip
Most Top 10s: 37 — Richard Petty
Most Wins by a Manufacturer: 46 — Chevrolet
NASCAR Cup Series prepares for ‘The Last Great Colosseum’
Consistently named as one of their favorite tracks by the NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Bristol Motor Speedway is a one-of-a-kind place that has produced some great racing over the years. Looking back, there have been 122 NASCAR Cup Series points-paying races at Bristol Motor Speedway since the first race in 1961, two races each season until 2021–2023 when the track replaced their spring date with the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt track.
The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway was on July 30, 1961. The inaugural pole at Bristol was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen and the race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen). A total of 42 competitors battled for 500 laps (250 miles) with fans seeing seven lead changes among five leaders. All of the NASCAR Cup Series races at Bristol have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in 1977, which were 400 laps each.
A total of 52 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway, and nine of the 52 Cup Series Bristol pole winners are entered this weekend. NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin (1989, 1993, 1995 sweep, 1996 sweep, 2001, 2009 sweep) and Cale Yarborough (1969, 1970, 1973 sweep, 1975, 1977 sweep, 1980 sweep) lead the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Bristol Motor Speedway with nine poles each. Denny Hamlin leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in poles at Bristol Motor Speedway with four (2013, 2014, 2015, 2019).
A total of 44 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won at Bristol Motor Speedway, and 21 of the 44 have won multiple times. Seven of the 44 NASCAR Cup Series Bristol Motor Speedway race winners are entered this weekend, and all seven are Playoff drivers. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Bristol Motor Speedway with 12 victories in 52 starts; including eight straight (1978, 1979, 1981 sweep, 1982 sweep, 1983 sweep, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1992). Kyle Busch leads all NASCAR Cup Series active drivers in wins at Bristol with eight victories in 33 starts (spring 2007, 2009 sweep, fall 2010, Spring 2011, fall 2017, spring 2018, spring 2019).
RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher is the most recent winner at Bristol Motor Speedway, taking the checkered flag by .458-second over second-place Chase Elliott last season. This year, Buescher will look to defend his win and if he accomplishes the feat, he will become the 12th different driver to win consecutive Cup Series races at the 0.533-mile track; joining Fred Lorenzen (1963–1964 sweep), David Pearson (1968 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), Cale Yarborough (did it twice-1974 sweep and four straight from 1976–1977), Richard Petty (1975 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (also did it twice-1985 sweep and 1987 sweep), Alan Kulwicki (1992 sweep), Rusty Wallace (2000 sweep), Kurt Busch (2003 sweep and 2004 Spring race), Kyle Busch (2009 sweep and Fall 2017-Spring 2018) and Brad Keselowski (Fall 2011-Spring 2012).
Clinch Scenarios: Last chance to make the Playoffs’ Round of 12
This weekend’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will bring the first round of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs to a close and four drivers will be eliminated from the postseason bringing the 16-driver field to 12. With two drivers locked-in and moving on, that leaves 10 positions still up for grabs this weekend at the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile’.
The following two drivers have clinched a spot in the 12-driver field of the next round: Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick.
Can Clinch Via Points
If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the next round, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick.
· Denny Hamlin: Would clinch with 7 points
· William Byron: Would clinch with 15 points
· Brad Keselowski: Would clinch with 23 points
· Ryan Blaney: Would clinch with 31 points
· Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 32 points
· Ross Chastain: Would clinch with 38 points
· Chris Buescher: Would clinch with 43 points
· Christopher Bell: Would clinch with 43 points
· Joey Logano: Would clinch with 44 points
· Kevin Harvick: Would clinch with 49 points
· Martin Truex Jr.: Could only clinch with help
· Bubba Wallace: Could only clinch with help
· Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Could only clinch with help
· Michael McDowell: Could only clinch with help
If there is a new winner from Martin Truex Jr. or another winless driver lower in the standings but still eligible to advance to the next round, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.
· Denny Hamlin: Would clinch with 12 points
· William Byron: Would clinch with 21 points
· Brad Keselowski: Would clinch with 29 points
· Ryan Blaney: Would clinch with 37 points
· Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 38 points
· Ross Chastain: Would clinch with 44 points
· Chris Buescher: Would clinch with 49 points
· Christopher Bell: Would clinch with 49 points
· Joey Logano: Would clinch with 50 points
· Kevin Harvick: Would clinch with 55 points
· Martin Truex Jr.: Could only clinch with help
· Bubba Wallace: Could only clinch with help
· Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Could only clinch with help
· Michael McDowell: Could only clinch with help
Can Clinch Via Win
The following drivers would clinch on their win alone: Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell
FLASHBACK 2022: Heading to Bristol Motor Speedway (the third race of the Playoffs) in 2022, Tyler Reddick was ranked 11th in the Playoff outlook, and he was tied with 12th place Austin Cindric, and they were two points up on 13th place Kyle Busch. Rounding out the top 16 was Austin Dillon in 14th (-3 points), Chase Briscoe in 15th (-9) and Kevin Harvick in 16th (-35). Briscoe finished 14th and Cindric finished 20th at Bristol, and both drivers advanced on points to the Round of 12 knocking Tyler Reddick (25th-place finish) out of the Playoffs. Busch (34th-place finish), Dillon (31st-place finish) and Harvick (10th-place finish) also failed to advance to the next round.
Pressure packed weekend for Harvick, Truex, Wallace, Stenhouse and McDowell
Bristol Motor Speedway, a high-banked, concrete, 0.533-mile short track, is one of the most challenging venues on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and this weekend the famous short track deemed ‘The Last Great Colosseum’ will host the Playoff’s Round of 16 elimination race. Below is a look at the Playoff contenders teetering the Round of 12 cutoff line and their career performances at Bristol.
Kevin Harvick (№4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) is currently in the 12th and final transfer position on points. Harvick holds a mere seven point advantage over 13th place Martin Truex Jr., who won the regular season championship earlier this season. After finishing 19th at Darlington and 11th at Kansas, Harvick is looking to advance out of the Round of 16 for the ninth time in his postseason career this weekend at Bristol. Last season was the first time he had failed to advance out of the Round of 16.
This season, Harvick has put up six top fives and 12 top 10s in 28 starts. He has led 123 laps, his average finish is 13.9, and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 82.5.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick has been elite. In 42 career starts he has collected three wins, 14 top fives, 22 top 10s and one pole. He has the third-best average finish among active drivers at 13.9. Plus, he ranks in the top-five in several pre-race Loop Data categories — Average Running Position of 11.764 (fourth-best), Driver Rating of 97.8 (fourth-best), 1,068 Fastest Laps Run (second-best), 11,927 Laps in the Top 15 (70.0%, series-most), 1,098 Quality Passes (series-most).
“Bristol, the night race, especially, is a place that just has a special feel,” said Kevin Harvick. “Being in the Playoffs now and being a part of that event for a long time just gets you jacked up as a driver. It’s just a very intense place to race. It’s an intense place to just make laps, honestly. As you get into that race and understand the magnitude of the situation, especially with Bristol being in the Playoffs, it’s something that I just think is very challenging and exciting to be a part of.”
Martin Truex Jr. (№19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) finds himself 13th in the Playoff point standings after winning the Regular Season Championship but finishing 18th at Darlington and 36th at Kansas to start the Round of 16. Now, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran is seven points behind Kevin Harvick in the 12th and final transfer spot on points. Truex is looking to advance to the Round of 12 for the seventh time in his career; every previous instance of him making the postseason in the elimination-style format he has advanced out of the Round of 16.
This season, Truex has posted three wins, nine top fives, 15 top 10s and one pole in 28 starts. He has led 832 laps, his average finish is 12.5, and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 95.3.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Truex is still looking for his first career win on the historic half-mile. In 32 career starts he has put up two top fives and four top 10s. His average finish of 20.7 is 26th-best. In addition, he has some strong stats in the pre-race Loop Data at Bristol — Average Running Position of 15.955 (15th-best), Driver Rating of 82.1 (13th-best), 543 Fastest Laps Run (sixth-best), 8,626 Laps in the Top 15 (53.8%, sixth-most), and 1,007 Quality Passes (sixth-most).
“Bristol hasn’t been my favorite place, but we’ve had some good runs there, too,” said Martin Truex Jr. “I think we’ve been competitive there over the years. It’s a place that’s tight and things happen fast there, so you have to be on your toes. Always really excited to be a part of how great the crowd is there, and the fans love that place. Bass Pro Shops is the sponsor there again and they do a lot of cool stuff for the fans. Hoping we can have a strong run there for them and get to the next round of the Playoffs. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Bubba Wallace (№23 23XI Racing Toyota) currently resides in the 14th position in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs point standings, in his first career appearance in the postseason. Wallace is 19 points behind Kevin Harvick in the 12th and final transfer spot on points to the Round of 12.
This season, Wallace has amassed four top fives and seven top 10s in 28 starts. He has led 162 laps, his average finish is 17.0, and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 77.7.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Wallace generally runs mid-pack at the high-banked half-mile. In eight career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the .533-mile track, he has posted just one top-10 finish (10th in 2020).
He ranks one spot ahead of Martin Truex Jr. in average finish (20.6, 25th-best) at Bristol. But he ranks in the mid-20s in pre-race Loop Data at Bristol — Average Running Position of 20.312 (20th-best), Driver Rating of 64.0 (24th-best), 25 Fastest Laps Run (22nd-best), 1,312 Laps in the Top 15 (32.8%, 23rd-most), 154 Quality Passes (22nd-most).
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (№47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) holds the 15th position in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings after finishing 16th at Darlington and 23rd at Kansas. The Mississippi native is 22 points back from the Round of 12 cutline heading into this weekend at Bristol. This is his second career appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2017, 2023), and he is looking to advance out of the Round of 16 for the second time in his career.
This season, Stenhouse Jr. has gathered one win (Daytona 500), two top fives and seven top 10s in 28 starts. He has led 25 laps, his average finish is 16.9, and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 66.8.
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s best tracks on the schedule. In 18 career starts he has collected four top fives and six top 10s. He has average finish of 18.278 (20th-best). Plus, he ranks in the top 20 in several pre-race Loop Data categories — Average Running Position of 19.639 (19th-best), Driver Rating of 71.2 (16th-best), 177 Fastest Laps Run (13th-best), 3,493 Laps in the Top 15 (38.8%, 13th-most), 567 Quality Passes (11th-most).
Michael McDowell (№34 Front Row Motorsports Ford) rolls into Bristol this weekend in the 16th and final NASCAR Cup Series Playoff position after finishing 32nd at Darlington and 26th at Kansas. With a mountain of points (-40 points) between himself and the Round of 12 cutline, McDowell arrives at Bristol knowing he will need to win to advance. This is McDowell’s second NASCAR Cup Series Playoff appearance, and if he does advance, it would be the first time in his postseason career he has accomplished the feat.
This season, McDowell has posted one win, two top fives and six top 10s in 28 starts. He has led 92 laps, his average finish is 19.2, and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 67.6.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, McDowell has struggled to make his way to the front in the past. In 23 career starts he has put up just one top-10 finish (10th in 2020). He has an average finish of 28.826 (37th-best) at the .533-mile track. This weekend will be a challenge for McDowell as the pre-race Loop Data has him ranked outside the top-25 in several key categories — Average Running Position of 29.313 (35th-best), Driver Rating of 45.4 (33rd-best), 9 Fastest Laps Run (26th-best), 593 Laps in the Top 15 (5.2%, 35th-most), 66 Quality Passes (27th-most).
NASCAR Cup Series milestones to watch for this season — Below is a look at some of the anticipated NASCAR Cup Series milestones to watch for as the 2023 season closes out its final eight races.
Drivers that are expected to make milestone starts during this season are:
Martin Truex Jr. — 650th NASCAR Cup Series start — Bristol Motor Speedway (9/16) — Truex will become the 28th different driver all-time to start 650 or more races in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Ryan Blaney — 300th NASCAR Cup Series start — Texas Motor Speedway (9/24)
Erik Jones — 250th NASCAR Cup Series start — Talladega Superspeedway (10/1)
Daniel Suarez — 250th NASCAR Cup Series start — Martinsville Speedway (10/29)
Ryan Preece — 150th NASCAR Cup Series start — Martinsville Speedway (10/29)
Ty Gibbs — 50th NASCAR Cup Series start — Martinsville Speedway (10/29)
Denny Hamlin — 650th NASCAR Cup Series start — Phoenix Raceway (11/5)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — 400th NASCAR Cup Series start — Phoenix Raceway (11/5)
Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in career wins with 63, followed by Kevin Harvick (60), Denny Hamlin (50), Brad Keselowski (35), Martin Truex Jr. (34), Joey Logano (32), and Kyle Larson (22).
Closing in on NASCAR Cup Series win number 300, Hendrick Motorsports currently sits at 299 team wins at NASCAR’s highest level — the most all-time in the Cup Series. Hendrick Motorsports will look for their 300th victory this weekend at Bristol. Wood Brothers Racing is also on the cusp a milestone victory in the NASCAR Cup Series and will look for their 100th NASCAR Cup Series win this weekend.
Hendrick Motorsports leads all active NASCAR Cup Series organizations in wins with 299, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing (206), RFK Racing (141), Team Penske (137), Richard Childress Racing (116), Wood Brothers Racing (99), Stewart-Haas Racing (69), Trackhouse Racing (5), 23XI Racing (5), Front Row Motorsports (4), JTG Daugherty Racing (2), Kaulig Racing (1), Spire Motorsports (1).
Closing in on NASCAR Cup Series win number 850, Chevrolet currently has 846 wins — the most all-time in the Cup Series. Ford has the second most wins all-time in the Cup Series at 712 and Toyota has the fifth-most all-time at 178 (behind Dodge at 213 and Plymouth at 189).
Car Number Wins
№99 car’s next win will be its 50th in the NASCAR Cup Series.