ThatsRacin

NASCAR’s always wild Bristol night race takes on added urgency with playoffs looming

Drivers expect to be especially aggressive to try to get to Victory Lane in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Drivers expect to be especially aggressive to try to get to Victory Lane in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. AP

NASCAR’s Bristol night race was full of hot tempers and dented fenders when it was just another race in a long regular season.

With segment points, a victory guaranteeing a spot in the postseason and only three spots left, drivers expect to be especially aggressive to try to get to Victory Lane in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

The August race at the .533-mile track in Bristol, Tenn., has long been considered one of the most sought-after wins of the NASCAR Cup series season. To win there requires a fast car, hours of intense concentration and the ability to walk the fine line between aggression and patience.

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Bristol Motor Speedway is “kind of like a 500-mile sprint car race, just because of how aggressive it is and slide jobs, running the top, running the bottom,” says Kyle Larson, who names Bristol as his favorite track. Chuck Burton AP

Too aggressive, and a driver will take himself or herself out of the race too soon. Too patient, and he or she will never get to the front.

“It’s kind of like a 500-mile sprint car race, just because of how aggressive it is and slide jobs, running the top, running the bottom,” said Kyle Larson, who drives a Chevy for Chip Ganassi Racing and names Bristol as his favorite track. “A lot of these tracks you go to, you can kind of ride a little bit throughout the middle portion of the race. But Bristol, you are on edge the whole time racing hard, and it makes it a lot of fun.”

And a win there is about more than just driving fast and turning left. Drivers compare Bristol to baseball’s Fenway Park in Boston or football’s Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

“There’s no better atmosphere. (Fans) are so close to you that you feel that environment,” says Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. “They’re all breathing down on you and expecting big things out of you, and you can’t wait to go out there and get in that coliseum and go to battle.”

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Driver Kevin Harvick (4) leads Kurt Busch (41) through a turn at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race is scheduled for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Bristol, Tenn. Wade Payne AP

Bowyer will be a contender for the win. So will Joey Logano, who has two wins at Bristol and needs a win to make the playoffs.

Matt Kenseth, who also needs a win to make the playoffs, leads active drivers with 14 top-5s and 21 top-10s. His four victories trail Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch, who have five apiece.

Larson, who won at Michigan last week with a Bristol-esque run from fourth to the lead on the final restart, expects to run fast, too.

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Kevin Harvick waves the checkered flag to celebrate his win in last year’s night race at Bristol. Andre Teague AP

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