Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview: World's Fastest Half-Mile

Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview: World's Fastest Half-Mile

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend we return to the famous short track in Bristol, Tennessee for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. The high-contact, short track action under the lights is one of the most popular races in the schedule. It's been a long, hard haul since race number nine of the season, which was the last time NASCAR's top division visited Thunder Valley. Since that time, we've seen Chase Elliott dominate the championship standings lead for the most part, with a mild challenge from both Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. We've seen two non-playoff drivers win the first two races of the Chase. We've seen Daniel Suarez's surprise win at Sonoma. We've also seen Austin Dillon's upset victory at Daytona and witnessed Kevin Harvick's back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond. So a lot has happened since the NASCAR Cup Series last visited the high banks of BMS. 

This visit to Bristol Motor Speedway will be different than the recent past. The late-summer Bristol race is no longer a part of the regular-season schedule but now makes up the first segment of the Chase for the Cup playoffs. This is the third race of the Chase and the cutoff to advance into the second round of the NASCAR playoffs. To advance, drivers simply have to win or be above the cut line of the Top 12 in the championship points. That added urgency to advance will really crank up the pressure for this 500-lap battle. Tensions will be high,

This weekend we return to the famous short track in Bristol, Tennessee for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. The high-contact, short track action under the lights is one of the most popular races in the schedule. It's been a long, hard haul since race number nine of the season, which was the last time NASCAR's top division visited Thunder Valley. Since that time, we've seen Chase Elliott dominate the championship standings lead for the most part, with a mild challenge from both Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. We've seen two non-playoff drivers win the first two races of the Chase. We've seen Daniel Suarez's surprise win at Sonoma. We've also seen Austin Dillon's upset victory at Daytona and witnessed Kevin Harvick's back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond. So a lot has happened since the NASCAR Cup Series last visited the high banks of BMS. 

This visit to Bristol Motor Speedway will be different than the recent past. The late-summer Bristol race is no longer a part of the regular-season schedule but now makes up the first segment of the Chase for the Cup playoffs. This is the third race of the Chase and the cutoff to advance into the second round of the NASCAR playoffs. To advance, drivers simply have to win or be above the cut line of the Top 12 in the championship points. That added urgency to advance will really crank up the pressure for this 500-lap battle. Tensions will be high, and so will be the pressure to advance and stay in the battle for the 2022 championship.    

In preparing our fantasy race teams this week, we'll need to take a close look at the last 17 years at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to collect some recent data on the drivers. The loop stats from these 34 races will be very useful. This span will cover Bristol's recent history and should bear some great data. In forming this week's driver list, we'll also pay some attention to current hot streaks. Drivers who raced well at Richmond should carry that momentum into the World's Fastest Half Mile this Saturday night. Here are the loop stats for the top-performing Bristol drivers, sorted by driver rating. 

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Larson13.45865478164,787102.4
Kyle Busch13.09501,1612,59310,812102.4
Chase Elliott13.35132774394,40098.8
Kevin Harvick14.11,0411,03198011,44297.6
Erik Jones12.44052162933,21694.0
Denny Hamlin14.51,03865689410,17492.4
Ryan Blaney18.75282294844,04191.9
Joey Logano15.09174297667,76691.0
Kurt Busch15.01,10553660510,26890.3
Brad Keselowski16.89114449047,46590.0
Martin Truex Jr.20.39965362878,55483.4
Christopher Bell22.015026199578.3
Chase Briscoe13.0212015575.9
Tyler Reddick17.38822072972.8
William Byron18.12705501,63772.6
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.17.455417703,46172.6
Austin Dillon16.94623503,32670.5
Daniel Suarez16.02824651,65670.0
Alex Bowman20.52738101,95769.6
Aric Almirola23.952012834,45166.8

This season's first race at Bristol Motor Speedway in April of this year was the sequel to last season's Bristol Dirt Race. The speedway brought in hundreds of truckloads of clay and dirt and filled the normally paved short track with dirt fill. It was the second straight season NASCAR has converted the half-mile paved oval into a dirt track. Kyle Busch would take the lead from Tyler Reddick on the last lap and prevail in that special event. However, there were many surprises in the finishing order due to the unusual conditions and racing surface. There was an abundance of caution flags (14 total) due to accidents over just 250 scheduled laps. From our standpoint of examining this weekend's Bass Pro Shops Night Race, the race earlier this season at BMS is really not of much help. In fact, we believe it skews any historical examination or statistics. For our purposes it's likely more helpful to follow the loop data in the table above and focus on the recent Bristol races, excluding the last two on dirt. Keep that in mind as we roll forward with our prognostications below.

If we look back at the previous three seasons of racing on the concrete at Bristol, we see that each of the three manufacturers have reached victory lane. Toyota and Ford are tied with two wins apiece and Chevrolet, our most recent winner, with one. With this race serving as the cutoff to the Round of 12 in the Chase, we're going to see a lot of contact and pushing this week. Manners will go out the window, and it will be a mad scramble to advance in the Chase for the Cup. Let's take a look at the historical loop stats and recent hot streaks and see if we can clear up the picture and give you the drivers you need this weekend to conquer the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Denny Hamlin – Coming off consecutive runner-up finishes at Darlington and Kansas to kick off the playoffs, Hamlin is poised to make a big splash at Bristol this Saturday night. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is a two-time Bristol winner, with his most recent victory coming in 2019. Hamlin cracks the Top 5 at a strong 29 percent rate and has led close to 900 laps for his career at this half-mile oval. He tends to step it up a notch for the events under the lights, so optimism about him continuing that trend should be even higher. The Joe Gibbs Racing star qualified on the outside pole and led 65 laps in this event one year ago. With the next round of the playoffs approaching, Hamlin is capable of a statement win this weekend in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

Kyle Busch – The eight-time Bristol winner has had his way in recent trips to the Tennessee short track. Busch enters the weekend with one win and four Top 5s in his last five Bristol starts. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led well over 350 laps combined during this recent span. These recent outings have only bolstered what is already an amazing career racing record at this historic short track. In addition to Busch's eight wins, he has 14 Top-5 finishes (a 44 percent rate) and has led well over 2,500 laps. He also won the race earlier this season on the Bristol dirt. With a ticket to the next round of the Chase for the Cup in the balance, we expect Busch to step up his game this Saturday night. He'll be one of the top contenders to win at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kyle Larson – Larson won this event one year ago to post his first-career Bristol Motor Speedway victory. That performance coupled with two runner-up finishes at BMS in 2018 make the Hendrick Motorsports star a very dangerous driver on the high banks of this short track. Larson has one victory and two Top 10s in his last four starts entering this weekend, so the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet is currently capable of pulling off a big performance. With the playoffs well underway, the importance of a win at Bristol can't be understated. Larson will drive with utmost purpose in this 500-lap battle under the lights.

Joey Logano – Logano has been heating up coming into the playoffs, with two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in the last five races. The Penske Racing star recently dominated at the Richmond short track with 222 laps led and a strong sixth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400. Logano has two career victories at Bristol Motor Speedway, with the latest coming in 2015. His 40-percent career Top-10 rate is a little lower than what we'd like to see for a contender to win, but Logano's 750+ career laps led at BMS illustrate his ability to race out front here. The driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford is quite capable of pulling the upset in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Chase Elliott – The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is 28 points to the good side of the cutline coming into Bristol, but there's no better time to win and punch your ticket to the Round of 12 in the Chase. Elliott has 11 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway and they've yielded five Top-10 finishes. Our major reason for optimism this weekend for the Hendrick Motorsports driver is twofold. Elliott has been a top performer on short tracks this season with one win, four Top 10s and 322 laps led. The secondary reason is that he's coming off a couple subpar performances and is in need of a great performance to get his playoffs back on track. There is great potential for Elliott this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.     

Christopher Bell – Bell is coming off a fantastic third-place finish at Kansas and is all over our radar screens as we come to Bristol this week. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster shook off a poor Daytona performance to log a pair of Top-5 finishes to start the Chase. Bell will now sharpen his focus on a Bristol short track that has given him some good performances in his brief NASCAR career. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has grabbed one Top 10 in three Cup Series starts at BMS and owns one win and one runner-up finish in four-career Xfinity Series starts at the famous half-mile oval.  Bell is having a very good season on the short tracks, and he should challenge the Top 5 in Saturday night's playoff race under the lights at Bristol.     

Tyler Reddick – Last week's Kansas race didn't end the way it started for the RCR youngster, but he should rebound nicely at Bristol Motor Speedway. Reddick has one Top-10 finish in three Cup Series starts at the Tennessee short track. Additionally, in his Xfinity Series career, Reddick was a one-time winner and one-time runner-up finisher along with four Top 10s. It's been a very successful track in his ascension to NASCAR's top division. The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet snapped a three-race Top-10 streak with his Kansas crash last Sunday, so Reddick had been racing very well. We expect the young driver to rebound considering he's just two points ahead of the cutoff to advance in the Chase.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick is in serious jeopardy of not advancing in the playoffs, but we expect the Stewart Haas Racing star to pull out all the stops at one of his more consistent short tracks. Bristol is more of a Top-10 oval for this driver, despite his victory in this event two years ago and runner-up finish one year ago. He's a three-time Bristol winner. Harvick has 21 career Top-10 finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway, which checks in at a strong 51-percent rate. With this driver and team looking for a win to lock themselves in for the second round of the Chase, we expect Harvick to pedal hard in this 500-lap battle. 

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Bristol & solid upside

William Byron – Byron has begun to dig himself out of a very long slump. His eighth- and sixth-place finishes to start the Chase for the Cup show that he and the No. 24 team are getting down to serious business with the races meaning so much. Byron has been pretty exceptional on short tracks this season with a Martinsville victory, a third-place result at Richmond in the spring and a pair of other Top-15 finishes. Bristol Motor Speedway has provided marginal success for the young driver, but the good news is that it's all come in his last three starts at the half-mile oval. Byron has a pair of Top 10s in those three starts, including a career-best Bristol finish of third-place in this event one year ago.

Bubba Wallace – Last weekend's Kansas victor will look to keep the good results rolling in Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops Night Race. The 23XI Racing veteran has nabbed 11th-, ninth- and first-place finishes in the last three events. The move to the No. 45 Toyota seems to have spurred some increased performance for Wallace, something he'll look to capitalize on at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Tennessee short track hasn't yielded too much success for Wallace with just one Top-10 and two Top-15 finishes in seven starts, but he's been getting increasingly better there with more and more experience at the track. Wallace has had some marginal success on the short tracks this season, with the highlight being a recent third-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.   

Ross Chastain – Chastain seemingly shook off his recent slump with a strong performance last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, which resulted in a seventh-place finish. Driving into the Round of 12 of the Chase is going to rest mainly on this veteran driver's shoulders for now. Chastain has been razor sharp in 2022 on the short tracks, with four Top 10s (a 67 percent rate) and a strong 9.2 average finish to go along with 166 laps led. There's a lot of fantasy racing upside with the Trackhouse Racing No. 1 team this Saturday night. Chastain earned a pedestrian Top-15 finish in his last start on the Bristol concrete surface. That was his career-best finish at the track to this point, but we're willing to bet Chastain does much better in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney rallied back to a Top-10 finish at Kansas Speedway last week after his subpar 13th-place Darlington finish. The driver of the No. 12 Ford is doing everything he can to turn up his performance for a deep drive into the Chase. Bristol Motor Speedway has been an oval of inconsistency for the young driver. With only five career Top 10s, Blaney's Top-10 rate at BMS is just 42 percent, but four of those have come in his last six starts at the Tennessee short track. Blaney has led a surprising 484 laps at Bristol in his brief Cup Series career. He normally brings good speed to these races, as evidenced by his fourth-place finish in this event one year ago. It should all add up to a Top-10 finish Saturday night.              

Alex Bowman – The Hendrick Motorsports veteran has overcome season-long inconsistency with a couple good runs of late. Bowman's 10th- and fourth-place finishes to kick off the Chase for the Cup have erased a lot of ills. He'll look to extend that Top-10 streak to three races this Saturday night in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. Bowman has had sporadic success on short tracks this season, with two Top 10s in six starts and a respectable 15.7 average finish. His success at Bristol has been equally sporadic, with three Top 10s in 11 starts, but Bowman's last effort at the half-mile oval yielded a strong fifth-place finish in this event one year ago. That represents his career-best Bristol performance.

Chris Buescher – Buescher has been racing well of late and is coming off a respectable Top-15 effort at Kansas Speedway last weekend. The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing veteran has been very consistent in 2022 on the circuit's short tracks. His three Top 10s and five Top 15s work out to an eye-popping 11.3 average finish on these small ovals. Buescher's most impressive short-track performance was his last, as he grabbed a brilliant third-place finish at Richmond just a few weeks ago. Bristol Motor Speedway hasn't held a lot of success for Buescher, but he's finished as high as eighth-place at BMS and did so very recently (2020). He should challenge the Top 10 once again Saturday night.  

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kurt Busch – We really don't have much of a medical update on Busch this weekend, but the entry list is pretty clear. Bubba Wallace will be in his No. 45 Toyota at Bristol and Ty Gibbs will be in the team's other entry, the No. 23 Toyota. With Busch having stepped aside for Wallace to race for the owner's championship, the writing is on the wall. We won't likely see the veteran driver compete in another race in 2022. Busch's concussion-like symptoms from the Pocono Raceway crash have effectively sidelined him for the remainder of the year. It's a real shame that Busch won't be competing this weekend considering he's a six-time Bristol winner and finishes in the Top 10 at this oval at a steady 51 percent rate. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been pretty good on short tracks this season, and he's coming off a Top-5 finish at Kansas this past week. However, Bristol has always been the Achilles Heel track for this veteran driver over the years. Truex's career numbers at Bristol Motor Speedway are less-than-inspiring. He has only four Top-10 finishes in 31 starts. All that toil has lowered his Bristol Top-10 rate to a lowly 13-percent. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota could jump up and surprise this weekend, but we would put those odds as very slim. Certainly, in weekly lineup leagues, you would be best served to save his starts for later in the Chase at more friendly intermediate ovals.         

Michael McDowell – McDowell's intermediate- and large-oval performance, backed up by his road-course success, has been his signature in 2022. However, short-track racing has been the real struggle for this veteran driver this season with just one Top-20 in six starts (26.0 average finish). McDowell's history at Bristol doesn't inspire much hope of a Hail Mary miracle this Saturday night. In 22 career starts, he has just one Top-10 and two Top-15 finishes. His career average finish stands at an inflated 29.6. McDowell has had a fantastic season in 2022, but his struggles the World's Fastest Half-Mile are more than enough reason to leave him on the bench this weekend.  

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – It's been a very tough season for Stenhouse and the No. 47 Chevrolet team. With only five Top-10 finishes, he comes to Bristol this weekend a distant 26th-place in the point standings. He's also coming off a disappointing 30th-place finish at Kansas this past weekend. Bristol Motor Speedway has typically been a track of success for Stenhouse, but his level of performance at this half-mile oval dropped off a cliff four seasons ago. His last six starts at Bristol Motor Speedway have yielded just one Top-20 finish, dropping his Top-10 percentage at the track to just 35 percent. Things have been so frustrating that Stenhouse has failed to finish three of his last four starts at the Tennessee short track. It's better to look elsewhere for your fantasy racing league help this week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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