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

Bass Pro Shops NRA 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, Tenn., for the Bass Pro Shops NRA 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 No. 8 of the season, which was the last time NASCAR's top division visited Thunder Valley.  Since then we've seen Kyle Busch dominate the championship standings lead for the most part, with only a minor challenge from Joey Logano.  We've seen Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Busch completely pound the competition into the ground.  We've seen Justin Haley's big upset victory at Daytona.  We've also seen Alex Bowman's first-career win at Chicago a few weeks ago.  So a lot has happened since the Monster Energy Cup Series last ran the high banks of BMS.  

We've also seen several different styles of tracks and generally raced on the larger ovals.  Bristol should prove to be a big adjustment for the drivers to make this weekend.  It's been some time since we've gone racing on an oval of less than one-mile in size.  Despite the long layoff, we should see a lot of the same faces racing at the front that we saw here in April.  Successful short track drivers are a rare mix of patience and aggression.  Those who can balance that yin and yang and beat fenders when need be and still be able to sit back and wait for

This weekend we return to the famous short track in Bristol, Tenn., for the Bass Pro Shops NRA 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 No. 8 of the season, which was the last time NASCAR's top division visited Thunder Valley.  Since then we've seen Kyle Busch dominate the championship standings lead for the most part, with only a minor challenge from Joey Logano.  We've seen Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Busch completely pound the competition into the ground.  We've seen Justin Haley's big upset victory at Daytona.  We've also seen Alex Bowman's first-career win at Chicago a few weeks ago.  So a lot has happened since the Monster Energy Cup Series last ran the high banks of BMS.  

We've also seen several different styles of tracks and generally raced on the larger ovals.  Bristol should prove to be a big adjustment for the drivers to make this weekend.  It's been some time since we've gone racing on an oval of less than one-mile in size.  Despite the long layoff, we should see a lot of the same faces racing at the front that we saw here in April.  Successful short track drivers are a rare mix of patience and aggression.  Those who can balance that yin and yang and beat fenders when need be and still be able to sit back and wait for an opportunity to pass in traffic are the ones to succeed at this half-mile oval of chaos.  When we put the fireworks of Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights we have a sporting event second to none in the racing world.  We're sure to see some tempers raised, fenders beaten and feathers ruffled after this 500-lap battle Saturday night.

In preparing our fantasy race teams this week, we'll need to take a close look at the last 14 years at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to collect some recent data on the drivers.  The loop stats from these 29 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 Michigan 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 Busch13.88091,0042,3049,253101.9
Kyle Larson15.24963835793,78797.1
Kevin Harvick14.28808446559,74696.0
Erik Jones14.82051322701,71395.3
Jimmie Johnson13.396869388610,35893.6
Chase Elliott12.43411341662,48592.1
Kurt Busch15.39924985969,39891.5
Joey Logano15.07413827646,37091.3
Denny Hamlin14.98715286188,64090.8
Ryan Blaney19.63521253792,52489.9
Brad Keselowski18.17183266065,73386.8
Ryan Newman14.9961194689,61485.3
Clint Bowyer14.37893392817,32482.7
Martin Truex Jr.20.98454272307,04782.3
Daniel Suarez14.02014051,18477.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.13.043016702,79077.4
Paul Menard17.9624801044,88071.3
Austin Dillon16.93562502,44270.0
Alex Bowman21.714739085264.6
William Byron19.0685042964.4

In the season's first race at Bristol Motor Speedway back in April of this year, we had a few surprises, both at the top and the bottom of the finishing order.  Still, some of the same short track specialists found their way to the front.  Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch staged a running battle over the closing laps, and it would be the No. 18 Toyota of the younger Busch that would take control and go on to win.  It was the Joe Gibbs Racing star's eighth-career victory at Bristol.  That performance and win capped an amazing day for Busch at BMS.  The veteran driver started from well back in the field, and he wouldn't take the lead until lap 384.  He would be a force over those final 116 laps.  

Also of note that day in April was Ryan Blaney's fantastic performance.  He led 158 laps and raced inside the Top 10 all day before finishing fourth in the 500-lap spring battle at Bristol.  Short track racing hasn't been Blaney's strength to this point, but he's been dramatically improved in 2019 as this race showed.  The duo of Blaney and Joey Logano combined to lead an amazing 304 laps in the Food City 500.  Penske Racing muscle was on full display.  Brad Keselowski led 40 laps in the early going and looked great, but ran into trouble and finished a distant 18th on the day.  Denny Hamlin also spent some time at the front with 7 laps led before finishing fifth-place that afternoon.  Can any of these contenders step up and redeem themselves at Bristol this weekend?  We'll soon find out.  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

Kyle Busch The now eight-time Bristol winner has had his way in recent trips to the Tennessee short track.  Busch enters the weekend the winner of three of the last four Bristol races, dating back to 2017.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led well over 300 laps combined in his last four Bristol starts.  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 16 Top-10 finishes (57-percent) and led well over 2,300 laps.  He went through a bit of a dry spell here between 2013-2016, but that is now clearly over, and Busch is once again the driver to beat each time we visit Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick Coming off the big Michigan victory, the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team is surging coming into the Bristol night race.  Harvick has just two wins on the season, but he's heating up heading into the Chase for the Cup.  He's a two-time Bristol winner, but always in the mix to challenge for the win here most seasons.  Harvick has seven Top 10's in his last eight Bristol starts, and that string includes one win (2016) and one runner-up finish (2015).  The driver of the No. 4 SHR Ford won our most recent short track race at Loudon a few weeks ago, and that is what has kick-started Harvick's recent hot streak.  You really have to like his chances going into this Bass Pros Shops NRA Night Race.

Denny Hamlin Coming off four-straight Top-3 finishes the last four weeks at Loudon, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan, it would seem that the No. 11 Toyota team are gathering some major momentum heading into the Chase for the Cup.  Hamlin has cracked the Top 5 in four of his last eight Bristol starts coming into Thunder Valley Saturday night.  The most recent was his fifth-place finish in April's Food City 500 at BMS.  Hamlin tends to step it up a notch for the events under the lights, so optimism in that trend should be even higher.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time Bristol winner and his 50-percent Top-5 rate here over the last five seasons is a big endorsement.  The race that Hamlin won at Bristol in 2012 was a night race.  The odds and trends would seem to favor this Joe Gibbs Racing driver and team.   

Joey Logano Logano has had some tough luck of late, but a return to short track racing should be welcome for this driver and team.  A visit to the Tennessee short track should be just what the doctor prescribed to fix their recent bad luck.  Logano has two-career victories at this short track, the latest as recently as 2015.  He has seven Top-10 finishes in his last eight Bristol starts coming into Saturday night's action, and this current string has boosted his career Top-10 rate here to 48-percent.  The short tracks have been a bright spot this year for the Penske Racing star.  Logano has four Top 10's on the short track circuit, including 52 laps led and an impressive runner-up finish this spring at Richmond.  He was equally impressive earlier this year at Bristol, leading 146 laps and finishing third in the Food City 500.

Solid Plays – Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kurt Busch Busch just missed the contenders list cut this week, but he comes in high atop the solid plays list.  The Stewart Haas Racing star has six-career wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, including this event one year ago.  Busch's last two starts have netted a victory and runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway this spring.  He's amassed 19-career Top-10 finishes at the Bristol oval, and that checks in at a respectable 51-percent rate.  Busch has been mired in a bit of a slump entering this weekend, and that's the primary reason we haven't listed him in the contenders list this week.  However, this driver and team could get things together in a big way this Saturday night.  Busch should be a top performer in this 500-lap brawl under the lights.        

Kyle Larson The Chip Ganassi Racing star has been getting it together of late.  Larson rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Thunder Valley this weekend.  His most recent Bristol outings are packed with some tantalizing performance and the sign of big potential for this Saturday night.  Larson has four Top-10 finishes in his last five Bristol starts.  Over that span he's claimed two pole positions, led 489 laps and piled up two runner-up finishes. His most recent visit this April was a forgettable experience.  However, this is a much better driver and team than they were here in April of this year.  The potential with Larson and the No. 42 Chevrolet team is way too good to ignore in Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

Ryan Blaney Blaney is having a pretty good season, and the key to that success has been his dramatic improvement in short track racing.  It's taken five seasons to finally show, but the driver of the No. 12 Ford is now a threat each time we visit one of the circuit's bull rings.  Blaney has three Top-5 finishes and over 250 laps led on the ovals of one-mile or less in size in 2019.  That includes his impressive performance at Bristol earlier this season.  Blaney led 158 laps after starting third on the grid, and cruised to an impressive fourth-place finish.  The young driver now has over 350 laps led in his last three Bristol outings and a pair of Top-10 finishes in those starts.  It would be difficult to imagine Blaney not focused like a laser this Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.              

Chase Elliott The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is gearing up for the Chase, and no better place than Bristol to make a run at a very important win, and help the playoff standings position.  Elliott has seven-career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway and they've yielded three Top-10 finishes.  Our reason for major optimism this weekend for the Hendrick Motorsports driver is twofold.  Elliott is coming off the big win at Watkins Glen two weeks ago, and really showing much better performance of late.  Secondly, his performances on short tracks this season have been among his very best.  Elliott nabbed a runner-up finish at Martinsville in the spring, and fifth-place finish at Dover this summer.  He won the pole at Bristol in April, led 38 laps and finished a respectable 11th in the Food City 500.  Elliott will be even better than that this time around.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Bristol who can provide a solid finish

Erik Jones As we come to Bristol this weekend we have to consider the surging No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team and youngster Jones.  He just snapped a four-race Top-5 streak with a subpar finish at Michigan this past week, but Jones should rebound nicely at Bristol Motor Speedway.  The young driver has just five-career starts at BMS, but has shown tremendous potential in that brief experience.  One pole position, one runner-up finish and two Top-5 finishes to go along with 270 laps led are his tale of the tape.  That level of performance just typically doesn't happen for young drivers at this challenging short track.  Jones has an obvious gift for racing at this oval, and he should return to Top 10 form in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

Jimmie Johnson Johnson and his No. 48 team have been a real disappointment the last five races.  The five-race Top-10 drought has plunged Johnson from 13th to 18th-place in the series standings, and put his Chase hopes in jeopardy.  However, his struggles have been mostly absent on the short tracks this season.  Johnson has two Top 10's and four Top 15's on the ovals of one-mile or less in size this year.  That sets up well considering the Hendrick Motorsports star's strong career stats at this half-mile oval.  Johnson is a two-time Bristol winner and has 21 Top-10 finishes in 35-career starts for a strong 60-percent rate.  Five of his last six Bristol appearances have netted Top 10's.  It's gut-check time for Johnson concerning his playoff hopes, and he should respond well.  This is a definite weekend to use the seven-time champion in weekly lineup leagues.

Clint Bowyer One of the biggest risk/reward drivers in the field is Bowyer and the No. 14 team.  His recent bad luck and rash of self-inflicted problems make him a risky fantasy racing start, but the upside is just way too good to ignore.  Bowyer has visited the Top 10 in four of the six events this season on ovals 1-mile or less in size.  The average finish is checking in around a dazzling 9.5.  The veteran driver is a career 52-percent Top-10 finisher at Bristol Motor Speedway, and that includes a three-race Bristol Top-10 streak entering this weekend.  If Bowyer is going to reverse his recent fortunes anytime soon, it's going to happen Saturday night at the Bristol bull ring.

Daniel Suarez Coming off a brilliant Top-5 performance at Michigan, Suarez rides a lot of momentum into Saturday night's spectacle under the lights at Bristol.  The young Stewart Haas Racing driver has shown a real knack and gradual improvement over his five-career Bristol starts.  It all culminated in his career-best Bristol finish this spring with an eighth-place finish in the Food City 500.  That now gives Suarez one Top 10 and three Top 15's in his first five starts at the World's Fastest Half Mile.  That average finish stands at a very respectable 14.0 over the span.  It dovetails nicely with what Suarez has done on the short tracks this year.  Two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes have led to a 14.8 average finish on the ovals of one-mile or less in size this season.

Ryan Newman The Roush Fenway Racing veteran has been a consistent performer throughout the summer and has been grabbing Top-10 and Top-15 finishes at some of his better tracks.  Now Newman comes to a short track that has held solid success for him over his 18-year Monster Energy Cup Series career.  Newman has never won at the Bristol oval, but he has claimed 19-career Top-10 finishes.  He checks out with a career 54-percent Top-10 rate at the facility.  Newman has three Top 10's in his last four Bristol starts coming into this weekend's action, and that includes his respectable ninth-place finish in April's Food City 500.  He should once again be one of the higher paying, cheaper-priced fantasy racing plays of the weekend.     

Paul Menard The safest, non-sexy fantasy racing play this week is likely Menard and his Wood Brothers Racing team.  The veteran driver has been doing some workmanlike racing on the series' small ovals this year.  Menard owns a pair of Top 10's, including the race earlier this season at Bristol, and four Top 15's in those starts.  His most recent was a steady 13th-place finish at the Magic Mile in New Hampshire just a few weeks ago.  That mark closely parallels Menard's average finish on the short tracks this season of 13.0.  That's way better than his career average finish of 20.5 on the series' small ovals, so you know it's been a pretty good season of short track racing for the No. 21 Ford team.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Brad Keselowski One of the most surprising names in the slow down list this week has to be Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing team.  The two-time Bristol winner has overshadowed the success he had earlier in his career at the famous half-mile oval with the very long drought he's currently experiencing.  Keselowski hasn't cracked the Top 10 in his last seven starts at the World's Fastest Half Mile.  Over that span, he's led some token laps and not qualified too poorly, but the finishes just haven't been there.  The current slump has dropped his Bristol Top-10 rate to a lowly 26-percent, and the average finish has ballooned to 18.1.  It's been a long time since we've seen Keselowski finish one of this Bristol races well. 

Martin Truex Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been really good this season, and he rides a four-race Top-10 streak into Thunder Valley this week.  However, Bristol has always been the Achilles Heel track for this driver over the years.  Truex's career numbers at Bristol Motor Speedway are less-than-inspiring.  He has only three Top-10 finishes in 27 starts.  Other than a Top-10 finish in the spring 2017 Bristol event, which we would consider to be an outlier, Truex has failed to crack the Top 10 at this facility since the 2012 season.  All that toil has lowered his Bristol Top-10 rate to a lowly 11-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 intermediate ovals.        

Aric Almirola The Stewart Haas Racing veteran grabbed what was just his third-career Top-10 Bristol finish one year ago in April's Food City 500.  This short tack has not been a venue of success for the driver of the No. 10 Ford.  His two starts at BMS since that Top 10 have been disappointing finishes outside the Top 30.  That has brought Almirola's career Top-10 rate at Bristol Motor Speedway to a lowly 15-percent.  This veteran driver has improved across the spectrum of tracks since moving to the No. 10 SHR team in 2018.  However, that improvement doesn't seem to have come at the Bristol bull ring.  Almirola's current five-race Top-10 drought only complicates matters going into Saturday night's 500-lap battle at the Tennessee short track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It's been a nightmare season of short track racing for Stenhouse and the No. 17 Ford team.  With only one Top-15 finish and three finishes outside the Top 30, this driver and team are struggling coming to Bristol.  The average finish stands around 26.0 for this driver and team on this season's bull rings.  Bristol Motor Speedway has typically been a track of success for Stenhouse, but he turned in a very uncharacteristic 33rd-place finish here in April's Food City 500.  Preceded by a 24th-place finish in this event one year ago, those shocking performances ended a great five-year run at the oval where Stenhouse had nabbed four Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes in nine-race span.  The veteran driver is a name to avoid in Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
NASCAR Barometer: Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR Barometer: Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200