BRISTOL, Tenn – It should come to no surprise that Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will have some fireworks. Just a couple of weeks ago in Watkins Glen, we saw three separate rivalries spark.
But, I have a feeling we could see a few more this weekend, this time with bubble drivers.
BRISTOL, TN – APRIL 06: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 6, 2019 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
Heading into this weekend’s race, 16 points separate Ryan Newman in 15th to Daniel Suarez in 17th. Jimmie Johnson is 18th, 12 points behind the cutoff spot to Clint Bowyer. These four will be competing against each other and each knows that they can’t afford to give up much ground.
Then, think about this, Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could easily win this race too. DiBenedetto, was fourth and first respectively on Friday in single lap speed and second and third on 10 lap averages. Stenhouse, has two runner-up finishes in his career in Thunder Valley and was seventh fastest in final practice himself.
What if one of these drivers win?
Well, it takes a playoff spot away and gives one likely spot to these four drivers for the postseason.
So, in order to fully control your own destiny, you have to win. That’s something these four drivers haven’t done a lot of lately. Heck, the playoff wildcard drivers in general haven’t.
Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola head the list but they have just two career wins to his credit each. William Byron, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones are next up and are the final three likely safe to be in but Larson has five wins while Jones has one career victory and Byron zero. Between them, this group has 10 career Cup wins with one driver with five wins, two with two, one with one and another without any trips to victory lane.
Then, you have Newman who hasn’t won in 78 races. His team, Roush/Fenway Racing, hasn’t won in 91. Clint Bowyer has been shutout of victory lane for 44 races. Suarez, has never won while Johnson hasn’t won in his last 82 starts.
Do you think any of those bubble drivers wins on Saturday night with those streaks?
Plus, Johnson’s last five finishes on the season are – 30th, 30th, 15th, 19th and now 34th. Bowyer’s last nine finishes are – 35th, 11th, 37th, 34th, 6th, 20th, 11th, 20th and now 37th. That’s four finishes outside of the top 30 and six outside of the top 20. He went from +73 in the points after Kansas to +6 in the standings leaving Michigan. Suarez, has two top five finishes since June 10 and both occurred on the same track.
Factor all of this with Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske winning each of the last 10 Bristol night races and you get why one of the drivers who has already won will reach victory lane on Saturday night.