The NASCAR Cup Series checks into its final Round of 16 destination in Thunder Valley, as drivers fight to advance in an exhilarating elimination race under the lights at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway.
Tune into this weekend’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race this Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Bristol Motor Speedway is a .533-mile short-track located in the hills of Tennessee. First debuting a Cup Series race in 1961, Saturday night’s showcase will be the 120th held at the track — hosting two races a season every year since it opened.
Known as “The Last Great Colosseum,” the track’s surface measures 650 feet long on the straightaways with 24- to 28- degrees of variable banking in the turns. The frontstretch is banked from 5 to 9 degrees and the backstraight is angled at a 4- to 8-degree tilt.
Stage 1 will end at Lap 125, Stage 2 at Lap 250 and the final stage at Lap 500.
Fresh off a win at Richmond, Brad Keselowski will lead the field to green Saturday night — earning the Busch Pole Award for the race, his second start from the top spot this year at Bristol and his third start from the top spot this year. Team Penske teammate Joey Logano joins him on the front row, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon to round out the top five.
The lineup was determined by four performance metrics from the Cup Series’ previous race: 15% based on fastest lap time position, 25% of the driver’s final race finish position, 25% of the owner’s final race position and 35% of the owner points position.
The 2020 NASCAR rules package for short tracks will be in effect with a tapered spacer used to set a target of 750 horsepower. The cars will use a reduced downforce package with a shorter spoiler, a shorter splitter overhang and other aerodynamic changes.
There are three factors that stand out when it comes to racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. First, the banking creates more speed and load than the “flatter” short tracks like Martinsville Speedway or Richmond Raceway. This makes Bristol race more like a speedway than a short track in some ways. Second, Bristol has a full concrete surface, which wears tires fairly aggressively when the track is “green” with no rubber built up on it. Goodyear designs its tread compounds for Bristol to take the right amount of rubber and not “cake up” on the surface, leaving cars with a good level of grip. Third is the fact that Goodyear, NASCAR and the track operations staff will work together to apply the PJ1 grip compound to the lower four feet of both sets of corners for this weekend’s races. While this does necessarily impact tire wear, its primary purpose is to give drivers a competitive, alternate lane late in which to race.
“Bristol provides several unique challenges for both Goodyear and the race teams,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “We have worked hard in recent years to refine the tread compounds that we bring there, as well as the other concrete tracks on the circuit. The key with concrete is to get it to take rubber, but just the right amount of rubber. It is easy to see that process once the race starts as the track turns from white to black, and lighten again as cars pick up some of that rubber when they are not at speed under cautions. … While the track has progressive banking, adding the grip compound to the bottom lane in the corners gives the drivers a viable, second groove.”
PLAYOFF STATS TO KNOW
— Saturday night’s race at Bristol will be the first NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race ever at the track.
— Denny Hamlin is the only Bristol winner in the last eight races that is not a past Cup Series Champion, and the only active driver that is not a past Champion in the last 15.
— The only two drivers to finish inside the top five in each playoff race so far are Austin Dillon and Joey Logano.
— Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have combined to win each of the last 11 races at short tracks. Martin Truex Jr. (three) and Brad Keselowski (two) are the only drivers who have taken the checkered flag in the last five.
— In May, there were 17 cautions at Bristol — the most in the last 28 trips to the track and most in any race since Martinsville in 2015 (18).
Source: Racing Insights
For a more interactive experience, head over to NASCAR.com or the NASCAR app to check out an enhanced Race Center, live Lap-by-Lap coverage, the customizable live leaderboard with Scanner (which is FREE for both races), and the return of Drive (featuring in-car cameras).
2019 RACE WINNER
Denny Hamlin closed the door on Matt DiBenedetto in last year’s fall race at Bristol, leading 79 laps and collecting his second-ever win at the track — his first since 2012.
RELATED: Who’s favored at Bristol?
ACTIVE BRISTOL WINNERS
Kyle Busch (eight wins); Kurt Busch (six); Matt Kenseth (four); Brad Keselowski (three); Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano (two each).