Bristol Brings It All: Saturday Night Short-Track Elimination Race

September 15, 2023

The “World’s Fastest Half-Mile,” as Bristol Motor Speedway is known, is going to quickly cut down the playoff field in NASCAR.

It happens on Saturday night (5:30 p.m. CDT, USA Network) when the 16 Cup Series playoff drivers run in the third and final race of the first round. Four will be out, eliminated after 500 laps on the .533-mile loop.

“You can never really be too safe,” said Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, 25 points above the cut line in his No. 12 Ford Mustang. “I definitely would prefer to be 25 points to the good than only a handful of points to the good, because you never know what could happen.”

The only safe drivers are Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick. Both advanced to the Round of 12 via victories, at Darlington and Kansas, respectively.

Also feeling good: Denny Hamlin and William Byron, both with 40-plus-point cushions, and Brad Keselowski, 33 above the line.

From there, it’s Blaney and six other drivers — Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Panini America NASCAR Brand Ambassador Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick — who are above the cut line but who, as Blaney said, can’t really feel too safe.

But can anyone? Certainly not Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Michael McDowell, a quartet who would be eliminated if they can’t improve their positions.

But they can. All are capable, as Truex won the regular-season points championship in his Joe Gibbs Racing machine, Wallace had a win-capable Toyota at Kansas, and Stenhouse and McDowell are Daytona 500 champions.

“He was driving a top-four car at Kansas, and he had a flat tire,” analyst Steve Letarte said of Wallace. “I’ve been very impressed. I thought he did a really nice job at Darlington.”

Anyone advances with a win. So, who will it be? Who’s moving on?

Hamlin is a four-time pole winner on the short track, and Busch has two. He’s also the active leader in wins on the Tennessee circuit with eight. Keselowski and Harvick are next with three victories each. Logano and Hamlin have won twice, and Buescher is the defending event winner. Larson won it in 2021.

Ford drivers have won three of the last four.

“Bristol, the night race, especially, is a place that just has a special feel,” Harvick said. “Being in the playoffs now and being a part of that event for a long time just gets you jacked up as a driver. It’s just a very intense place to race. It’s an intense place to just make laps, honestly.”

The intensity starts when the green drops. Then answers will come. Quick.

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