|Lots of grip on the lower groove this week with TrackBite applied.|
in keeping with the theme – there are three drivers with previous wins at the Last Great Colosseum who have yet to secure a post-season slot with a playoff-eligible win: Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.
Lights, Camera … And A Whole Lot Of Action
The spotlights are on Bristol Motor Speedway. In more ways than one.
It’s Bristol at night, baby! Few things in sports match the intensity and spectacle of NASCAR racing beneath the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. The world’s fastest half mile has produced some of the most intense moments in NASCAR history.
Google “2008 Bristol night race, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch” for just one example.
And in case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s crunch time for drivers trying to make the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Win, and you’re in.
And if you don’t win, you better hope there’s a repeat winner in order to keep your hopes alive.
All of those factors together promise to make for a thrilling showdown in Thunder Valley.
Bowyer, Logano Playoff Hopes Lean on Past Bristol Success
The bubble picture looks OK for Clint Bowyer. Not great, but OK. He doesn’t exactly need a win to make the playoffs, but that’s certainly the easiest path.
For Joey Logano, it’s dire. Mathematically speaking, there’s a chance he can still earn a playoff spot on points. There’s also a chance of finding broccoli on a dessert menu.
He needs a win, and there’s pleasant news on that front.
Bowyer and Logano are the first two drivers outside the 16-driver playoff bubble, and both are VERY strong at Bristol. Which is good for them, and potentially bad for the likes of Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. A win by either Bowyer or Logano would shove one of those three drivers outside the bubble.
First, Bowyer. Bowyer finished second in the Monster Energy Series’ first trip to Bristol in April. It’s a bit of a deceiving finish, as his average running position of 13.6 would suggest. Still, he’s finished in the top 10 in three of the last four Bristol races (and in the top five in two of those).
Logano boasts a stellar record at Bristol, scoring two wins (including the 2015 Night Race) and top 10s in each of the last four finishes. None of those finishes were flukes, as he led multiple laps in each.
Truex Hones in on Regular Season Championship
In Stage 1 at Michigan, Martin Truex Jr. scored seven stage points. Seven.
For Truex and the No. 78 team, that’s an Aaron-Judge-Post-Home-Run-Derby type slump.
Seriously. Prior to Michigan, here are the Stage 1 point totals of the previous five races: 9, 9, 9, 10, 10. Stage 2 figures look pretty similar. So, yes, seven looks weak in comparison.
Therefore, if anyone’s wondering how Truex’s points lead has ballooned to 129 points over second-place Kyle Larson, that’s why.
That’s also why Truex is quite likely to lock up the regular season championship this weekend at Bristol, two races before the regular season actually ends at Richmond. If Truex leaves Bristol with a 121-point lead over second-place (or a 120-point lead if the second place driver has one win), he is guaranteed to be the points leader following race No. 26 at Richmond.
And that’s extremely important this season. The regular season champion earns 15 playoff points, a major boost towards landing an even bigger title – 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
The Making Of A Champion?
Three in a row.
That’s what Kyle Larson won at Michigan International Speedway when he used a masterful restart in NASCAR Overtime to split the pair of Furniture Row Racing Toyotas and park his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in Victory Lane…again.
With the 2017 sweep and the 2016 August win for his first career checkered flag in the Monster Energy Series, Larson is the true Wolverine in the Irish Hills.
Throwing in his win at Auto Club Speedway in March, Larson has three race wins and has also accumulated 18 total playoff points this season – second only to Martin Truex Jr.’s 35 playoff points.
At Bristol, the young Californian has posted three top-10s and an average finish of 19.3 in seven starts.
But the most relevant of his stats in Thunder Valley might be that Larson captured a stage win at Bristol in the spring race – for one of those all-important playoff points.
Jones, Suarez Showing Skills Beyond Their Experience
Coming into the 2017 season, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year class earned quite a bit of ink.
Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez received the most attention, with pundits foreshadowing solid seasons with a playoff berth a possibility. They were spot on.
Both, though, need a win to land a spot in the playoff field. And both have been racing with the sense of urgency that comes with that truth.
Jones, specifically, has been on a tear, with three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a career-best finish of third (Michigan).
Bristol holds special memories for Jones. In 2015, Jones logged some laps in the Monster Energy Series Bristol race for an injured Denny Hamlin – his first taste of action at NASCAR’s top level. Since then, Jones has raced at Bristol once, a 17th-place finish in April. Jones won two Bristol races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
Suarez stumbled a bit at Michigan, after a late-race wreck with Kasey Kahne ended his day. Prior to that, Suarez had four consecutive top 10s, including a career series-best finish of third (Watkins Glen).
Like Jones, Suarez has only one start at Bristol – an 18th-place finish in April. But in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Suarez finished in the top five in three of his five starts.