NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol

What happened?

Kevin Harvick won the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol on Saturday night (Sept. 19) after holding off a hard-charging Kyle Busch in the final laps. 

Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five.

How did it happen?

The day got off to a tough start for Busch, Jones and Denny Hamlin before it even began, as they were all sent to the back after failing pre-race inspection twice. As the race began, it was clear Harvick had one of the best cars in the field. Brad Keselowski bolted out to the lead from the pole, but Harvick overtook him on lap 18 and led until Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked just before the scheduled competition caution.

On the ensuing pit stops, Matt DiBenedetto – essentially facing a must-win situation – took two tires and led the race. Keselowski quickly got by him, though he held second place for the majority of the first stage. Later on, all three Penske cars began to fade. All three were in the top 10 midway through the stage, but only two finished there.

Chase Elliott passed Keselowski with 18 laps to go in the stage and held off Busch for the stage win, his seventh of the season. Busch, who came from the back on the initial start, clearly showed he had winning speed.

Early in the second stage, DiBenedetto was forced to pit with a loose wheel. He fell three laps behind and his playoff chances appeared to be shot. Late in the stage, which Busch dominated, William Byron ran into the back of a lapped car, ending his day– and chance at advancing to the Round of 12. Somehow, NBC didn’t catch any video of the incident.

Busch maintained the lead on the final restart of the stage with nine to go. He won the stage under caution as Ryan Newman spun while Busch took the green and white checkered flag. 

The last stage at Bristol is usually when crap hits the fan. That wasn’t really the case on Saturday night. Harvick passed Busch for the lead early in the final stage, as those two and Elliott seemed to be the best cars all night long.

Harvick set a torrent pace, lapping all but 10 cars as the final green-flag pit stops were beginning. Just as Elliott and others hit pit road, an incident occurred with James Davison and Austin Dillon. Harvick was about to enter pit road but quickly ducked back onto the track as the yellow flag flew.

With just six cars on the lead lap, the race essentially came down to the two best cars of the night. Harvick and Busch traded the lead a few times as they got through lapped traffic.

Harvick retook the lead with 32 laps to go and then he just put on a clinic. Weaving through dozens of slower cars with Busch inches away from his bumper, Harvick didn’t slip up at all. On the final lap, Harvick didn’t allow Busch to get to his bumper and held on for his ninth win of the season and 58th of his career.

Apparently winning never gets old.

Who stood out?

Harvick continues to wallop the field every week in what’s quickly becoming the best season by a driver in recent memory. Nine wins in 29 races and an average finish of 6.2? Those are video game-like numbers. No driver has won nine races in a season since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 (10).

Heading into the playoffs, most people thought he was a lock to make the Championship 4 at Phoenix because of his playoff points. Well, if you were one of the minuscule amounts of people who opposed that mindset, you can now join the dark side. In the Round of 16, Harvick added 10 more playoff points to his already record-setting total.

Lock it in – Harvick is heading to Phoenix to compete for his second title.

Another week goes by with defending champion Kyle Busch coming up short. Still, he led 159 laps and likely had the best car in the field (it was clearly he or Harvick). That’s great, but he clearly just wants to get back to victory lane in what’s been a miserable year by his standards. As has been the standard throughout this winless season, Busch was in peak form after the race.

Never change, Kyle. You might not like him, but there’s no doubt he’s great for the sport.

The playoffs are often dominated by drivers competing for the championship, so it was impressive to see Jones and Reddick finish in the top five. Even more, Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece and Michael McDowell also recorded top-10 finishes. It was a great day for a lot of underdogs.

Focusing more on Jones and Reddick, these performances were further proof of how much potential these guys have. Jones is somehow still without a ride for 2021, though he indicated to the media after the race that that could change soon. Reddick, who at many times has looked better than his teammate Dillon this year, looks like a lock to become a regular playoff participant going forward.

Who fell flat?

Heading into Bristol, Byron was already in a precarious points position. After wrecking out, Byron’s once-promising season went up in flames. He picked up his first career win in the regular season finale and followed that up with a top five at Darlington. A brutal night in Richmond put him on the bubble, and Saturday’s incident was the final blow.

It’s not a lost season for Byron, but it’s getting to the point where you need to start seeing him make deeper playoff runs. The lack of qualifying – one of his biggest strengths in 2019 – has certainly hurt him. Also, the big win at Daytona means he’s not on the hot seat just yet. Next year, though, he’s going to need a career-defining year if he hopes to become a star in the series.

Blaney’s head-scratching playoff run (can you even call it a run?) came to an acrimonious end at Bristol. In the past, he’s had some great runs at Bristol that were cut short because of things outside of his control. This time, he didn’t have a chance from the get-go. There were flashes early in the race, but it quickly became clear that he was off late in the first stage.

This season started off so strong for Blaney, so the year can’t be categorized as anything other than a failure. He had a realistic chance to win the first two races of the season and he often showed race-winning speed, the team just lacked race-winning execution. Somehow, his only win this season was at Talladega, where he bullied Jones out of the way coming to the line. Definitely a lost season for Blaney after how it began.

I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Denny Hamlin wasn’t at his best yet Saturday – and this is the third week in a row you can say that. Finishes of 13th, 12th and 21st might not be awful for a lot of guys, but a championship team like Hamlin’s starting the playoffs with three runs like that is concerning.

Hamlin’s playoff points will carry him deep into the postseason if he can just stay afloat like this. Although, competition is only going to get stronger as the field narrows down. If he doesn’t go out and run in the top five at Las Vegas, I think we can officially start asking questions about the No. 11 team.

What did this race prove?

The playoff bubble drama wasn’t nearly as exciting as it’s been in recent years. NBC tried to play it up, there just wasn’t anything there. When Byron wrecked, the “drama” was essentially gone. Bowyer and Almirola just had to stay clean and they had no pressure to drop out.

Do I think the bubble drama gets more exciting in the next two rounds, though? Absolutely. Look at the schedule – the Charlotte ROVAL concludes the Round of 12 and Martinsville is the Round of 8 cutoff. With higher stakes and better teams fighting to stay alive, it can only get better.

NASCAR needs to raise the minimum speed at short tracks. Our own Dustin Albino made an excellent observation during the race, so I figured it was a good topic to expand on.

At tracks like Bristol and Martinsville, the difference in speed becomes painfully obvious. That’s fine – I understand that some teams don’t have the same resources as others. But it’s a detriment to the race if you have slower cars holding up the leader and impacting who wins the race.

Paint scheme of the weekend

I hate to give this completely made up award to the same team two weeks in a row, but I’m going to do it. If the No. 20 keeps rolling out beautiful schemes, I have no choice. Erik Jones’ Auto-Owners Insurance livery on Saturday night looked great under the lights.

Better than last year?

It’s another tough race to compare to last year. If you recall, last August’s Bristol Night Race came down to a late battle between DiBenedetto and Hamlin, with Hamlin getting by Matty D late for the win. In that race, nine drivers led at least 20 laps, so there was a lot of action around the front of the field.

The ending to this year’s race was better. It was truly a dogfight until the last corner. What more can you ask for? Overall, though, I believe last year was a better total product. Harvick and Busch dominated this race, leading a combined 385 of 500 laps. It was still a good race, just a tick worse than last year, which was surprising given that this was a playoff race.

Playoff picture

Byron, DiBenedetto, Blaney and Cole Custer were eliminated from the playoffs, and it really wasn’t all that close. All four were over 20 points behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer.

As we move to the Round of 12, the points are re-racked based on playoff points. That means your season-long powerhouses – Harvick and Hamlin – are at the top of the grid. Here are the full standings:

What’s next?

The Round of 12 begins next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which last hosted the Cup Series back in February before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The South Point 400 is set for Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT, a rare Sunday night race. This race will be the first chance for the remaining 12 playoff drivers to lock themselves into the Round of 8.

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About Logan Reardon

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    While Harvick and Busch were the top two cars regardless, that last caution is what determined the top 10. So you can tip your hat to Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece and Michael McDowell but they were only in the top 10 because so many of the top cars got caught laps down because that caution fell during a pit stop cycle.

    Man do I hope Kyle goes winless this year. First it would be a good check for his ego. A dose of humility would be a good thing. Second, we’d never have to hear about a streak of years with at least 1 win again.

    Wasn’t a classic Bristol race but it was OK. Good to see some non-playoff drivers mixing it up (Jones and Reddick). It was still relatively tame with regards to contact and there was some playoff neutering apparent.

    I watched most of the post race show and I was surprised they didn’t play up the way lap down Logano seemed to go out of his way to hold up Busch and hand the lead back to Harvick. It was a total dick move but I loved it. I wonder if it was the result of a specific incident in another race this year or just a long running rivalry/feud from years of racing together. All I can say is that it seemed obvious and if Busch should fall out of the playoffs I think it will come back to haunt Logano before the year is out (maybe a repeat of Kenseth at Martinsville). Like I said, I loved it but it wasn’t very smart if Logano thought he was championship bound.

  2. Avatar

    I definitely think Logano held up Busch on purpose. I have no problem with that; Busch has never respected Logano. You reap what you sow, and that applies to Logano as well. Kyle won’t soon forget that Joey probably cost him a win last night.

  3. Avatar

    “It was still a good race, just a tick worse than last year, which was surprising given that this was a playoff race.” – Just more evidence that the “Playoffs” add nothing to the actual racing product. The “Playoffs” add artificial drama, that’s it.

  4. Avatar

    Baby Busch got the lead from Harvick because of lapped cars. If Baby Busch had won he wouldn’t be complaining about lapped cars. His ego must really be taking a beating. And he can’t go back to the Busch series or Trucks any more.

    40 cars at a half mile track are too many. Cut it down to 32 and there won’t be the speed discrepancy.

  5. Avatar

    No way dude,,,, raise it to 60! :)

  6. Avatar

    NASCAR HAS TO START 36 AT A MINIMUM AS THERE ARE 36 CHARTERS, WHICH GUARANTEE A START. A MINIMUM SPEED WOULD BE GOOD FOR BRISTOL. THIS WAS A VERY TAME RACE COMPARED TO MOST IN THE PAST !!

  7. Avatar

    the only thing dumber then the NASCAR playoffs is stage racing, stage points, playoffs points, a truly stupid points system, we don’t need all these gimicks to make racing good,

  8. Avatar

    Dear author — Shouldn’t it be “torrid” pace, not “torrent”?

    Glad that Harvick won. I’m with the other people who are happy that KyBu didn’t win and am hoping that he doesn’t win this year at all. Also glad it wasn’t Hamlin or Logano taking the win.

    Steve, I agree with you that all the gimmicks are stupid, including the current silly championship junk. Instead of all the effort NASCAR puts into this, they should focus on making the racing better overall. Artificial excitement will never surpass the fun of actual competition.

  9. Avatar

    Treat it like an Australian Pursuit. Every 10 laps for the first 100 eliminate the last place car. That’ll leave 30 cars for the last 400 laps and one less thing for Baby Busch to complain about after the car, the tires, the crew…

  10. Avatar

    Joey Logano again determined the winner of the race by holding up Kyle Busch allowing Harvick to get the lead. Whether or not you hate Busch or Logano, Joey has a habit of doing this kind of thing. Personally, I think it stinks and I’m pretty sick of seeing it. Other drivers seem to be able to let go of past issues, but Joey has an Enemies List that grows every year. Maybe it’s time for somebody to do another Kenseth to this spoiled brat. As more drivers are eliminated from the Playoffs, the possibility is definitely there – if somebody has the balls to do it.

  11. Avatar

    Actually, Edwards won nine races in ’08.
    You think the 18 had the fastest car? The 4 had him by half a lap before the last caution, so I’m not so sure about that.
    The 4 has now won 10 of the last 32 races, so as far as 10 race wins in a year, I say mission accomplished. Amazing time to be a 4 fan. No driver rewards his fans like Kevin Harvick.
    Great race. Two lead changes at the end of the race, a constant battle for the lead all the way to the checkered flag, and by two titans of racing at the moment. Our current Petty and Pearson, as Earnhardt said on the broadcast. One to remember, as most Bristol Night Race’s are.

  12. Avatar

    Lapped cars: Everyone got spoiled in the mid-to-late 90s when every team could get significant sponsorship without too much effort. Having cars that many laps down is the norm. I’m sure a number of us remember the 52, 67, 64, 6, 48/49, and the 70 out there on the short tracks. Those of us who do probably respected all those guys.

    The 27 was on the lead lap for awhile but once Gray Gaulding went 3 laps down, he really stayed out of the way. Quin Houff did a good job staying out of the way, which is important for him after Texas. Most of the backmarker cars could hold a faster pace if they weren’t proactively trying to stay out of the way.

    Smithley and Gase aren’t as bad as they seem. Just like Jimmy Means competed for track championships in Alabama and at Nashville back in the day, when a lot of really good drivers were competing in that area. Jimmy didn’t suck as a driver and was actually a really good mechanic, he just didn’t have the money. Same for Wendell Scott way back in the day, for that matter.

    The lesser teams are just waiting for the new cars. It makes no sense to invest large sums right now.

    Lastly, Landon Cassill should be in Cup next year.

  13. Avatar

    Kyle’s driving style is enough to create enemies and prevent him from ever winning another championship. He needs to accept responsibility for his style and stop crying. Afterall, he is a champion (supposedly)

  14. Avatar

    How about Truex Jr! Coming out of the pits and going straight up to the racing groove 20-30 mph slower in front of Hamlin. Hamilin couldn’t help but rear ended Truex Jr. and put him in the wall. The commentary booth said Truex Jr hit the wall first. Watch the replay, Hamlin’s hood crinkles up before Truex Jr hit the wall. Point being, Truex Jr thinks he can go anywhere he wants and the other racers are supposed to make room for him.