Short-track tempers bound to flare at Bristol

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Short track racing. Saturday night. Under the lights. Beating and banging. It’s Bristol, Baby!

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” in Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race this weekend, the third-to-last race before the 2017 playoffs begin. With sub-15 second laps, things happen fast. Which means tempers can flare. And with everything on the line for multiple drivers, it’s going to get good.

WHAT: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (500 laps. 266.5 miles. Stages of 125, 125 and 250 laps)

WHEN: Saturday, August 19, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly at approximately 7:48 p.m. ET

WHERE: Bristol Motor Speedway, 0.533-mile short-track located in Bristol, Tennessee

FAVORITES: Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex (4/1), Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski (10/1)


Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

LAST YEAR’S WINNER

One year ago, Kevin Harvick wound up hoisting the hardware at Bristol for the second time of the 2016 season and second time in his career at the Tennessee short-track. The race was run on a Sunday afternoon after precipitation delayed the event to the following day.


THE LINEUP

Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Erik Jones won his first career Coors Light Pole Award by turning a fast lap of 128.082 mph (14.981 seconds) around the half-mile. Kyle Larson will roll off second.

Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth will round out the top five starters, with Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney rounding out the top 10. Some other notable qualifiers include Brad Keselowski in 17th, Kyle Busch in 18th, Jimmie Johnson in 21st, Kevin Harvick in 29th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 31st.


YOU’VE BEEN PUNKED

All that hubbub last week about NASCAR possibly taking cars back to Concord, N.C. from each manufacturer for further evaluation? Well, it turned out to be just rumors.

“We actually found it kind of comical this weekend,’’ NASCAR executive VP Steve O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Monday morning. “We put a little bit of the rumor out there, and candidly it worked.”

Translation from O’Donnell to the garage: YOU’VE BEEN PUNKED!

After winning the pole last Friday at Michigan, 2012 MENCS champion Brad Keselowski floated the notion out that Toyota was “sandbagging” due to the idea of NASCAR taking cars. 2014 MENCS champ Kyle Busch responded on Saturday when asked about Keselowski’s comments, calling him a “moron.”

Keselowski and Rowdy’s feud isn’t a new one. Recently, they got into it at Watkins Glen, and they’ve had a few more run-ins throughout the years. With both drivers running up front, they’re bound to race around each other on Saturday—and bound to have tempers flare, too.


REGULAR SEASON CHAMP?

Martin Truex Jr. has been the dominant driver all season long, racking up playoff points left and right, along with stage wins and race wins. And after this weekend, he might officially be adding a whopping 15 more playoff points to his already humongous tally.

Truex currently holds a 129-point advantage in the regular season points standings over second-place Kyle Larson. If the driver of the No. 78 exits BMS with a lead over second-place of 121 points or more, he officially clinches the regular season points title.

Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

If (and when) he does so, he will add those 15 bonus playoff points to his tally, which is at a whopping 35 at the moment. Assuming Truex doesn’t win any more races or stages before Richmond in four weeks (which he will, by the way), he will enter the playoffs with FIFTY (yes, 50) playoff points. And in each round of the playoffs, the playoff points carry over.

If we were playing by last season’s points structure, for example, if Truex makes it past round one (which he will), he wouldn’t be able to use his playoff points in any other round. This season, he gets to use all 50 (or however many he ends up with) in every single round.


IT’S GRIP ENHANCEMENT, BABY

VHT, PJ1, whatever you want to call it—it’s back for a third straight time at “Thunder Valley.”

That’s right. The sticky substance put down at Bristol, Charlotte and New Hampshire so far this season is making a return this weekend. We’ve seen the grip enhancement (what NASCAR is officially calling it now) bring back some memories of the “old” Bristol, where the bottom lane is the preferred lane, and if you wanted to pass someone, you used the “bump and run.”

But throughout 500 laps on Saturday evening, on top of the modified race, truck race and XFINITY race, the grip enhancement will be lessened. The track will most likely apply more ahead of each race to keep the stickiness present throughout the weekend.


THREE TO GO

Bristol, Darlington and Richmond. Then, it’s playoff time.

There are three spots up for grabs before Chicagoland Speedway and the first race of the 10-race playoffs roll around in about a month. Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth currently hold those spots, with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano looking to slot their way in.

Bristol always makes tempers flare. Darlington is the annual throwback weekend (with a whole lot of Darlington stripes to boot). Richmond is aptly nicknamed “The Action Track.” And with time winding down until the regular season ends and drivers willing to do anything to get in, these next three races will be some must-see television, if I do say so myself.

Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of “three’s,” Kyle Busch is going for the weekend sweep. He did it at Bristol once back in 2010. He’s already won the Camping World Truck Series event (after coming back from a late-race speeding penalty) on Wednesday evening, and did the same thing in the XFINITY event on Friday night, his 91st career victory in that series.

If he wins Saturday night, too, he will be in line for the second-ever weekend triple sweep on Saturday night. Say what you want about Rowdy, but the dude can drive.


PREDICTION

As stated this week on Victory Lane, this has the makings of a Kyle Busch weekend. He’s won here five times, but hasn’t won since 2011 when the surface was repaved. He’s seen a handful of wins fall by the wayside this season and at BMS in his career. Running the Truck Series and XFINITY Series events won’t hurt his chances, too. So mark it down: No. 18 to Victory Lane.

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