Jimmie Johnson talks with Ryan Blaney

Bristol rivalries: Which drivers will rekindle friction or start new conflicts?

Playoff pressure has ramped up in recent weeks, with drivers shuffling for position in the provisional 16-car postseason field. But as the hourglass sands start to trickle out with just three races left in the regular season, the tension and potential for sparks ratchet up.

Enter Bristol, cauldron of conflict.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s annual night race (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM) provides a prime setting for the crumpling of fenders and feelings. Old differences are often rekindled, and new disagreements frequently sprout during a 500-lap grinder on the .533-mile bullring.

Which will occur Saturday night? NASCAR.com staffers Zack Albert and Terrin Waack will be trackside to find out but offer their midweek predictions ahead of the Bristol build-up.

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ZA: Here’s sensing a new argument that will burble up at Bristol, particularly between drivers with the most perilous playoff perch. The potential to settle old scores is there, but so many of Bristol’s best battles are situational. With so little running room available, the battles for real estate are often on edge.

We’re probably due for a good helmet throw, a finger wag or another overboard display of frustration. The hunch is it won’t be a Round 2 for a past transgression.

TW: Keep an eye on Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is on the verge of not making the playoffs for the first time since the postseason format was installed in 2004, and he’s surely feeling the pressure. Johnson went from barely safe – tied for the 16th and final spot with the tiebreaker leaning in his favor – to not safe, now in 18th.

Johnson snapped at Ryan Blaney two weeks ago in Watkins Glen and then apologized for his own aggression this past weekend at Michigan. The blame game is bound to continue at Bristol.