Penske, Gibbs Cars Look Like Ones To Beat For Bristol Night Race, Why Some Of Their Drivers May Stil
BRISTOL, Tenn – It’s no secret, heading into this weekend’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) the Team Penske or the Joe Gibbs Racing camps were the ones to beat. Combined with Stewart-Haas Racing, these three organizations have combined to win each of the last 10 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway for the August night race.
Then, factor in how good they were in practice on Friday from Thunder Valley, you’d see that this group is once again the favorites. In the first practice session, seven of the top eight speeds belonged to JGR or Penske. In final practice, they pace dipped a bit but everyone was working on varying plans.
But, I’d caution just how much of a favorite they are. Yes, there are some drivers on these two teams that are ones to beat, but there are a few I’d be wary of.
Team Penske hasn’t won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since June 10. They were so close last weekend but their fuel mileage cost them a victory at the Michigan International Speedway despite leading 122 of 200 laps overall.
Penske, has looked good at Bristol lately though, it’s just that the Busch brothers have stolen their thunder with wins. But, if anyone can top the Busch duo, it is Penske.
Ryan Blaney during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 18, 2018 in Bristol, Tennessee.
Ryan Blaney is the obvious pick for them. He was sixth and second respectively in practice on Friday. Blaney is arguably the top wildcard driver at Bristol too. Blaney, has three top 10 finishes in his last four Bristol starts including a seventh place run in this race last year and fourth this past spring. He led 221 laps on the concrete oval in 2018 and 158 more in April. He also enters this weekend with three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the year and six in his last nine.
Joey Logano has seven top 10 finishes in his last eight Bristol starts including a third place run in the spring after leading 146 laps. Also, his last seven Bristol night race finishes are – 8th, 5th, 1st, 1st, 10th, 13th and 4th respectively. He was third and 13th respectively in practice on Friday but despite having a quick race car, he’s struggled on the season entering this weekend too. Logano, hasn’t had a top five since June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway. Four of his last six finishes have seen him result in 13th or worse efforts.
Another driver I’m not confident in is Brad Keselowski. His last seven Bristol finishes are 18th, 33rd, 34th, 29th, 23rd, 16th and 18th respectively. He does have three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the season but he was only seventh and 25th respectively in practice this weekend.
Overall, the Penske threesome led 344 laps in April. If all goes right, one of these three can win. The key is, if “all goes right.”
What about JGR?
Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are likely their best shots. ‘
Jones, has been hot lately with four top four finishes in his last five starts on the year to go along with finishes of second in this race in 2016 and fifth last year. In the XFINITY Series, Jones has two wins in his last three starts including four top eight’s in five tries. He was second and 14th respectively on the single lap runs on Friday but fifth and second on long run pace.
Hamlin, was first and 18th but finished fifth on this track in April. Also, Hamlin enters as arguably the hottest driver in NASCAR right now with five consecutive top five finishes and four of which in the top three. He was sixth in final practice on long run speed.
The other two drivers, I’m not sold on.
Kyle Busch was fifth and 16th respectively on single lap runs in practice and has won three of the last four starts at Bristol, but in three of his last seven he’s also finished 20th or worse too. He was also 17th quick in final practice on the 10 lap average chart. Also, Busch has just one top five finish in his last five starts on the season too.
Martin Truex Jr. was eighth quickest in both practice sessions on single lap and eighth fastest on the 10 lap average in final practice on Friday in his No. 19 Toyota. He has shown past speed on the Tennessee oval but his finishes just haven’t been there. Truex, has one top 10 finish in his last 14 Bristol starts. His last three finishes are 30th, 30th and 17th respectively. He’s finished 20th or worse in 11 of his last 12. His last top five came way back in 2012.