This Saturday night the Sprint Cup Series will be making its second stop of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked concrete half-mile track. Other than the Daytona 500, it is the race on the schedule that everyone most wants to see and with the Chase format of determining who gets to run for the title it comes at the perfect time.
There are only two races — at Atlanta and Richmond — after the Irwin Tools Night Race before the Chase field is set to determine which 12 drivers will have the opportunity to move into the championship round of 10 races to determine this year’s champion. All three tracks have a personality of their own, but it is Bristol’s tight half-mile with its variable banking that may have the biggest say in who does get to go on to race for the title.
In recent years, all but maybe the last spot or two have been locked up by the time the series rolled into Bristol for the night race and the racing suffered, but that will not be the case this Saturday night. Only the top six in points seem to be safely in the Chase with the remaining four spots in the points as well as the two wild card spots up for grabs among as many as nine drivers.
Joey Logano proved this past weekend at Michigan that the quickest path to becoming one of the Chase drivers is by winning a race. He entered the race at Michigan sitting in 16th place without a win with very little chance of making the Chase field. But after taking the checkered flag, Logano moved up three spots in the standings and more importantly moved within five points of locking down the final wild card spot that is now held by Martin Truex Jr.
Winning this weekend is not just important to those drivers who are trying to make the Chase with one of the wild card entries. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in seventh followed by Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch in the standings are all winless on the season and are dangerously close to falling out of the all-important top 10.
Earnhardt Jr. is 16 points ahead of the 10th spot with Keselowski and Busch holding on to slim 4- and 2-point cushions. The driver in 10th that they are fighting to stay ahead of is Greg Biffle, who is only four points from dropping out of the top 10. Even if Biffle did fall out of the top 10, his Chase hopes would still be alive as he does have a win on the season and there is only one driver outside of the top 10 that has two wins.
Kasey Kahne sits in 11th with his two wins on the season and appears to have a Chase spot locked up by either moving into the top 10 or by using one of the wild card spots. Either way would be fine with him, but if he could gain entry by his points position, it would mean that he could use the bonus points awarded drivers for wins collected during the first 26 races of the season.
The only bonus points that carry over to the Chase are the three that are awarded for each win a driver has notched during the first 26 races of the season leading up to the beginning of the Chase. The two wild card drivers, even though they had to use wins just to get in, are not given any bonus points for those wins once the Chase begins.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth lead all drivers in the top 10 with four wins on the season, followed by Kyle Busch with three and Kevin Harvick with two. The bonus points for each of these wins will be a motivating factor in trying to add to that total over the next three races beginning with Bristol.
So here sits Bristol on the schedule with a large group of drivers still trying to improve their position in the Chase. A few just want the three bonus points for winning another race while some want to remain in the top 10 or claim a wild card spot, and the best way for that is to visit the rooftop victory lane this Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Event: Irwin Tools Night Race
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
(.533-mile concrete oval, 240-300 of
banking in the turns)
Date: August 24, 7:30 pm
Defending Champion: Denny