By Pete Pistone
Irwin Tools Night Race Preview
There are two races annually at Bristol Motor Speedway but for most drivers and fans alike the nighttime is the right time.
NASCAR’s traditional summer stop under the lights at the high-banked, half-mile speedway is one of the most popular races on the schedule. It’s a throwback to the Saturday night short track racing the sport was built on and usually a prime example of the kind of rough and tumble action generally associated with NASCAR.
There’s Daytona, Darlington and Indianapolis but for many drivers winning the summer night race at Bristol is the pinnacle of their career.
“That win on the summer night back in 2003 will always rate up there with my biggest and most favorite victories,” said Kurt Busch. “When people think of the night races on the NASCAR schedule, naturally you think of the Bristol race under the lights as being the benchmark. It’s a special win, no doubt about it.”
Before the onslaught of prime time racing came to NASCAR there was only one Sprint Cup Series race held when the sun went down and that was at Bristol.
Although there are more than a dozen prime time races now on the schedule, taking the checkered flag at the late summer stop in the Volunteer State remains a treasured goal.
“There is no doubt that winning at Bristol would be special and I know I speak for the entire team when I say leaving here with a trophy is something everyone in racing wants to accomplish in their career,” said Denny Hamlin.
Although the track’s long running sellout streak ended last year ticket sales for Saturday night’s race are reported to be strong. While a standing room only crowd is not expected, anticipation is that more than 140,000 fans will fill the track’s cavernous grandstands.
Bristol’s popularity doesn’t surprise Dale Earnhardt Jr., who believes a trip to the track should be on every fan’s must see list.
“I would tell them that Bristol is… if you’re going to try to get introduced to NASCAR, that that’s the first place I would take you to,” Earnhardt said. “I’d take you to Bristol and give you a heavy dose of what racing’s about and then it would open your eyes to the rest of the sport. That’s definitely probably the one thing that can certainly grab anyone’s attention is a race at Bristol.
“Just the overall speed of the cars going around the track that fast and that small, and the fact that once the green flag drops, there’s pretty much cars all around the race track and there’s always racing and racing for position on some area on the race track,” he explained “There’s never one lap that lacks action, and it’s hard to know which end of the race track to be watching.”
Bristol Motor Speedway
Track Size: .533-miles
Race Length: 500 laps/266.5 miles
Banking/Corners: 26-30 degrees
Banking/Straights: 4-9 degrees
2010 pole winner: Jimmie Johnson (123.475, 15.540 seconds)
2010 race winner: Kyle Busch (99.071 mph, 8-21-10)
Track qualifying record: Ryan Newman (128.709 mph, 14.908 seconds, 3-21-03)
Race record: Charlie Glotzbach (101.074 mph, 7-11-71)
There have been 101 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the first race there in 1961, two races each season.
All races have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in 1977, which were 400 laps.
Fred Lorenzen won the first pole.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen).
There have been 44 different pole winners, led by Cale Yarborough and Mark Martin (nine). Martin swept both poles at Bristol in 2009.
38 different drivers have won, led by Darrell Waltrip (12).
Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon each have five wins, most among active drivers.
The race winner has started from the pole 22 times, the most productive starting position. The last driver to win from the pole was Carl Edwards, in the night race of 2008.
80 of 101 races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 52 from the first four spots.
The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 38th, by Elliott Sadler in 2001.
The 2009 night race had a margin of victory of .098 seconds, the second-closest at Bristol since the advent of electronic scoring in May of 1993.
The last five Bristol races had a margin of victory under one second.
Who’s Hot at Bristol
Kyle Busch – His quest for a possible third straight Bristol weekend sweep ended in his incident with Elliott Sadler in Wednesday night’s truck series race. But Busch has to still be considered the favorite in Saturday night’s main event with four Sprint Cup Series win in his last five Bristol starts.
Jimmie Johnson – The five-time champion is beginning to show signs of life again just as the regular season winds down and the Chase beckons. Nearly crossed Michigan off his bucket list last Sunday but was forced to settle for second behind Busch. Was third at Bristol in the spring.
Greg Biffle – Bristol is just what the doctor ordered for Biffle who desperately needs a solid run especially in the wake of last week’s disappointment when he started from the pole and finished 20th. Biffle has four straight Top 10 finishes on his Bristol resume coming into Saturday night’s race and his hoping for his first win.
A.J. Allmendinger – A career best 16th place finish in eight starts is evidence enough of why the Richard Petty Motorsports driver carries a 30.1 average finish into Saturday. Was 31st at Bristol back in March.
Joey Logano – The pressure remains on the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and he’ll have his hands full Saturday night at a track that has not been one of his best. He has an average finish of 23.0 in five previous starts.
David Ragan – His slim Chase hopes could be completely erased unless Ragan turns around his Bristol performance. In nine starts Ragan does have a tenth place finish but an average of 24.0 will not get the job done.
Groundbreaking for Bristol International Speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway was originally known, took place in 1960. The track was an exact half-mile.
First NASCAR Sprint Cup race was July 30, 1961.
In the fall of 1969, the track was reshaped and re-measured to .533-miles.
The name changed to Bristol International Raceway in 1978.
The first night race was held in the fall of 1978.
The surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1992.
The name changed to Bristol Motor Speedway in May 1996.
The track was resurfaced between races in 2007.
There have been 162 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Tennessee.
101 drivers all-time in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Tennessee.
There have been 13 race winners from Tennessee in NASCAR’s three national series.
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