Silly Season has finally officially kicked into gear for 2020 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, as last week it was announced that Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan would be stepping back from full-time racing at season’s end, leaving the No. 38 open, and that Matt DiBenedetto would be one-and-done in the No. 95.
While Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race wasn’t anywhere near as bizarre as the Trucks or Xfinity events were earlier in the weekend (and that’s a colossal bar of crazy to top), it did have its moments. No pace truck spinouts or exploding wheels, but there was a lot of tension late as Denny Hamlin picked up his fourth victory of the season.
Two sponsorship notes worth mentioning: The metal band Slayer was replaced at the last second on Rick Ware Racing’s new No. 54 entry, and it seems in very bad taste to have the National Rifle Association sponsor a major sports event just weeks after the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The Cup Series is now officially two-thirds of the way through the season, and Joe Gibbs Racing has ruled, with Team Penske coming in the second spot on the pecking order. Except for the July Daytona race, there haven’t been that many surprises this year.
How about DiBenedetto getting his best career finish at possibly his best track? It was his second top 10 at Bristol, and he led the most laps at 93. For the season, he has three top fives and five top 10s.
Stewart-Haas Racing had an eventful night, as Kevin Harvick wound up with a last-place 39th following a clutch issue just short of halfway, while Aric Almirola was 29th, 18 laps down, after encountering an issue. Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez ran seventh and eighth, respectively, though Suarez displaced Bowyer for the 16th and final playoff spot with two regular season races to go, and Bowyer caused one caution due to an incident with Quin Houff.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney is always fast at Bristol, but something always derails his efforts. He was involved in a crash but rebounded to finish 10th, his fourth top 10 in the past five races, and the same results when applied to the Last Great Colosseum.
Austin Dillon‘s rough season continued, as the Richard Childress Racing driver was 34th after spending a significant amount of time in the garage after slapping the wall several times. It was his seventh finish of 2019 in the 30s, and his 10th on the wrong side of 20th.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch picked up his 13th top 10 of the season on Saturday night to go along with his Kentucky win and five top fives. For his career at the track, he has six wins, 12 top fives and 20 top 10s in 38 starts.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 33rd after something mechanical snapped, ending his night early following an incident with Blaney. He has an average finish of 20th, his eighth of 25th or worse this season, and he only has two top 10s to counteract those results. He’s kind of become one of those drivers you forget was even at the track, which seems more concerning in contrast to his teammate, Ryan Newman.
Paint Scheme of the Week
— RCR Updates (@RCRupdates) August 18, 2019
Given that Bass Pro was sponsoring the race, it’s not that surprising that they were on multiple cars. But three at once might be a little overkill, don’t you think? Out of the three designs, Dillon’s No. 3 looked the best, though a picture of it couldn’t be tracked down. The black and orange on all three really popped under the lights.
Bristol night race. pic.twitter.com/BYGkhISkPd
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) August 17, 2019
Among the non-Bass Pro schemes, Blaney’s royal blue and white Dent Wizard scheme looked sharp. It might be time for a haircut, though.
Ugh. Dissapointed in myself after tonight. Helmet blower hose broke and I ran with my visor up for good potion of race. Got sick and destroyed the interior of my helmet 🤢🤮 Thanks to @RickWareRacing for giving me a good car tonight. Had a lot of fun until that point
— Josh Bilicki (@joshbilicki) August 18, 2019
Sometimes social media can provide too much information. This is one of those times.
Friendly reminder: When a NASCAR driver says they "have no front tires", that is an exaggeration. They do actually have tires physically on the car. It's an expression.
— Roush Fenway (@roushfenway) August 18, 2019
Roush Fenway Racing’s top-notch social media team gave a helpful reminder of what “hyperbole” means, if anyone had forgotten.
— BristolMotorSpeedway (@BMSupdates) August 18, 2019
This is amazing that DiBenedetto would stick around afterwards and sign autographs like this, especially so because of everything that happened in the past few days.
The Cup Series is off for the final time this season, but the Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series are still in action, both going road course racing this week.
The NXS goes to Road America in central-southeastern Wisconsin on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. ET for the CTECH Manufacturing 180, with TV coverage on the NBC Sports Network. There seems to be no reason why Austin Cindric can’t continue his road course dominance in 2019.
On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Trucks go north to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, for the first race of the playoffs in the Chevrolet Silverado 250, at 2:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1. Going by past history, it should provide a great finish and some ruffled feathers, whatever else happens. Could this be the week Todd Gilliland finally gets his first win?