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Playoff Drivers Look For First Win at Bristol Night Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 17 2022

Chase Elliott won the regular season title in the Cup Series. He could use a victory Saturday night in Bristol. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Entering Saturday night’s final event in the NASCAR Cup playoffs first round, standings leader Christopher Bell is the only driver of the 16 guaranteed of advancing to the Round of 12 that opens next weekend at Texas.

Two weeks of unpredictability have seen the standings turned upside down as non-playoff drivers have won post-season races at Darlington and Kansas, and wrecks to mechanical failures have plagued the title contenders.

Now, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway provides another wrinkle of unpredictability. It’s the first race for the Next Gen car on the tough, half-mile track’s concrete surface since the spring race was on dirt. Drivers who have spent a great deal of time on a simulator during the week agree on two things – it’s fast and filled with unknowns. 

Regular season champion Chase Elliott, who enters the cutoff event seventh in the standings, believes there are some challenges that will “make for a battle” in the race.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty big battle against yourself in just having your car balance close, being able to match the two ends, the shifting,” Elliott said. “There’s a lot of rpm difference between running the bottom lane versus running the top. So how they have the drop gear setup, how is that going to impact fourth and fifth gear. The chip can only be set at one location.”

Elliott notes there are “super interesting things that are normal for Bristol”, but unique to the new car.

“The bump off turn two comes to mind,” Elliott continued. “A very unique bump in turn one that I’m not sure we’ve really had this year. This place has a lot of vertical load and that bump over there is pretty aggressive, but a lot of times you don’t see that until later in the event when it gets cool, and you really start running the top part. Just a lot of challenges. I think I could see on the horizon of just wanting to make sure you have your ducks in a row, personally, before you even start racing other people.”  

  Joey Logano, who makes his 500th Cup start Saturday night, says the Bristol unknowns only add to a season that’s been a “crazy year”.

“We expected this year to just be very unpredictable and no one really being able to figure this car out,” says Logano, who’s fourth in the standings. “It really seems like there are still so many questions and as we come to Bristol for the first time on concrete there are a lot of questions again.” 

Logano describes the situation as everyone playing with the same deck of cards, and the deciding factor being how one team plays its hand. 

“There are some tracks that certain manufacturers may have advantages over others, but it’s not huge like it used to be,” Logano said. “There are teams that might have a little bit of an advantage here and there because they figured something out for a little bit. It just keeps changing. Everyone is trying to figure out not only the setups, but where is the low hanging fruit on this car when you’re developing it at the wind tunnel and those type of things. What can and can’t you do. Before, you used to have teams that were strong for three to four months at a time. Now it’s three to four weeks at a time, so it seems like that cycle just happens a lot quicker now.” 

Aric Almirola earned the pole for Saturday night’s race with a 128.382-mph, 14.946-second lap. That’s a little more than 3 mph off of Ryan Blaney’s 132.075-mph record lap set in 2019.

The race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on the USA Network.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Bass Pro Shops Night Race

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, September 17

The Time: 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)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 17 2022
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