The first two legs of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have been won by non-playoff drivers, leaving Saturday night’s race under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway a last-ditch effort for 15 drivers battling for the 11 available spots.
The Bass Pro Shops Night race is scheduled to go green at 7:30 p.m., and Christopher Bell is the only driver who has secured a spot in the Round of 12. Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick currently occupy the four spots below advancing, and only 13 points separate 10th through 15th.
Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace aren’t among those fighting to stay in the championship chase, but they helped keep the drama high by winning at Darlington and Kansas, respectively, the past two weeks.
BASS PRO SHOPS NIGHT RACE
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,338,394
TV: USA, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 125),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 250), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 500)
Chase Elliott (+700 at BetMGM)
After falling out of the points lead after Darlington, Elliott finished last at Darlington following an early accident. The good news? He has three top fives and five top 10s in 11 Bristol starts, although none of them came in the Next Gen car.
Denny Hamlin (+700)
Hamlin enters Bristol with a pair of runner-ups in his past two races. He’s also a two-time winner at BMS (2012, ’19) and has three top-10s in his past seven races at the track. Hamlin’s average finish at Bristol is inside the top 15.
Kyle Busch (+700)
Busch trails Austin Cindric in 12th place by just two points. He has also won eight times at Bristol, including on dirt at the World’s Fastest Half Mile in April.
“There are a lot of unknowns going into this race, since there hasn’t been a race with the Next Gen car on the concrete surface, so a lot of unknowns, for sure,” Busch said. “It’s always a great racetrack to circle on the calendar and know it’s a time when we can shine.”
Kyle Larson (+700)
Larson won the playoff race at Bristol last year with some help from teammate Elliott. It was Larson’s first victory at Bristol, but he does have eight top-10s in 13 starts on BMS’s concrete surface.
Christopher Bell (+900)
Of course Bell wants to continue adding to his points lead but he can also drive more freely than the other 15 playoff contenders. He’s coming off a third-place run at Kansas following a fifth at Darlington.
However, Bell has a lone top 10 in his career at Bristol while finishing 28th or worse twice. His best finish at BMS was a ninth in 2020.
Kevin Harvick (+900)
Harvick wrecked early last week and finished last at Kansas after a 33rd at Darlington. He’s now last in the standings, 35 points behind Cindric, and likely needs a win on Saturday night to keep his championship hopes alive.
The good news is Harvick has a victory and a runner-up in his past three races at Bristol. He also won to advance to the Championship 4 Round in 2014, going on to also win at Phoenix to claim the title.
“I think experience goes a long way as you go down this road,” Harvick said. “Obviously, it’s different than the regular season because there’s so much on the line, but our guys have been through that battle. Plus, we don’t have anything to lose.”
Joey Logano (+1400)
Logano provides intriguing longshot odds considering he previously won back-to-back races at Bristol. Granted, they came back in 2014 and ’15 and Logano also hasn’t finished better than 11th in his past four trips to BMS. He lost the points lead with a 17th at Kansas.
(Information from NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this story)