NASCAR at Bristol: Can Kyle Busch advance? Starting lineup


Kyle Busch gives an autograph during driver introductions prior to a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway, Sunday, Aug.  14, 2022, in Richmond, Va.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Kyle Busch gives an autograph during driver introductions prior to a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

AP

Kyle Busch called his sport-shifting move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing “one of the most important decisions” of his career and life.

It might’ve come just in time.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns at 7:30 pm on Saturday (USA Network, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) to Bristol Motor Speedway, home of a cutoff race that will knock four of the 16 current playoff drivers out of the Cup championship chase.

One of the guys who is below the cutoff line at the moment? Bush.

One of the favorites to win at Bristol? That’s probably Busch, too.

With the bulk of his free-agency stress behind him, Busch is practically straddling the cutoff line for the Round of 12. He’ll start in P21 and is two points below Austin Cindric (in 12th) and Tyler Reddick (in 11th) and only four points below Daniel Suarez (in 10th).

The good news for Busch — and the bad news for Cindric, Reddick, Suarez and the rest of the field — is that he’s historically been quite fast at Bristol: He’s notched eight wins and 20 top-10 finishes there since 2006. (The drivers with the second-most wins at Bristol? Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick each have three, per media notes.)

Busch’s most recent run at the historic track ended in him running 21st, but before that, he finished second in Sept. 2020, first in April 2019 and first in April 2018.

He’s had a stretch of bad luck in this year’s playoffs — which included an “ugly day” at Kansas and an engine failure at Darlington two weeks ago — but the veteran driver is nevertheless confident for Saturday.

“It’s just that unfortunate circumstances continue to bite us,” Busch told reporters on Tuesday. “And it’s not that it’s anyone’s fault, or that there’s anything malicious happening, it’s just crazy that it can’t turn around and be a normal weekend for once.”

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Erik Jones (43), Ross Chastain (1), Ryan Blaney (12), Alex Bowman (48), Martin Truex (19), Kevin Harvick (4) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47) compete in the NASCAR Southern 500 auto race Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in Darlington, SC Jones won the race after taking the lead from Kyle Busch when Busch blew an engine with 30 laps remaining in the race. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) Sean Rayford AP

The rest of the guys on the outside-looking-in include Austin Dillon, who sits three points behind Cindric, and Chase Briscoe, who sits eight points behind Cindric. It’s conceivable that they all could sneak into the Round of 12 on points alone. (Dillon will start Sunday’s race in P28; Briscoe will start in P2.)

In a media availability Thursday, Briscoe said that his team will focus on collecting stage points and that he doesn’t necessarily consider Bristol a “must-win” race. He added that the Cup race on Saturday will feature “probably the most chaotic race we’ve seen at Bristol in a long time,” adding that the Next Gen cars will “be out of control.”

“I think they’re going to be extremely fast, faster than what has run there in a long time,” Briscoe said. He added: “That track has gotten rougher and rougher over the years, and so, I feel like if you throw in all those combinations, and you throw in the playoffs, it’s going to be really chaotic. I feel like there are probably going to be more cautions than we’ve seen in a really long time at Bristol. It’s going to be a race of attrition.”

Said Cindric: “Everything is so close between the 99, Reddick, myself, Kyle, Chase and you still have a guy like Kevin Harvick who is capable of winning his way in. … I think it’s a wild-card race from a points perspective.”

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Kyle Larson, left, talks with Chase Briscoe before qualifications for the NASCAR Series auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings AP

The last-placed playoff car, Harvick’s No. 4, will need a win to claim a spot in the Round of 12. He starts in seventh.

Aric Almirola will start at the pole position. Alex Bowman will start third, and Denny Hamlin will start fourth. Kyle Larson, who this week signed a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2026, will start fifth.

No playoff driver has won a playoff race yet. Erik Jones won in Darlington, and Bubba Wallace won in Kansas.

Here’s what else you need to know.

NASCAR race at Bristol details

  • Race: Bass Pro Shops Night Race
  • Location: Bristol Motor Speedway
  • Date: Saturday, Sept. 17
  • Hour: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Purse: $8,338,394
  • TV: USA, 6:30 pm ET
  • Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
  • Distance: 266.5 miles (500 Laps)
  • Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125, Stage 2 ends on Lap 250, Stage 3 ends on Lap 500

Bass Pro Shops Night Race: Starting lineup

Order Driver Car no.
1 Aric Almirola 10
2 Chase Briscoe 14
3 Alex Bowman 48
4 Denny Hamlin 11
5 Kyle Larson 5
6 Ryan Blaney 12
7 Kevin Harvick 4
8 Christopher Bell 20
9 Austin Cindric 2
10 Brad Keselowski 6
11 Cole Custer 41
12 Ross Chastain 1
13 AJ Allmendinger 16
14 Bubba Wallace 45
15 Joey Logano 22
16 William Byron 24
17 Tyler Reddick 8
18 Michael McDowell 34
19 Justin Haley 31
20 Chris Buescher 17
21 Kyle Busch 18
22 Martin Truex Jr. 19
23 Chase Elliott 9
24 Eric Jones 43
25 Shut up Gibbs 23
26 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47
27 Harrison Burton 21
28 Austin Dillon 3
29 Daniel Suarez 99
30 Todd Gilliland 38
31 Corey LaJoie 7
32 Cody Ware 51
33 BJ McLeod 78
34 Shut up Dillon 42
35 Landon Cassill 77
36 JJ Yeley 15

Alex Zietlow writes about NASCAR, Charlotte FC and the ways in which sports intersect with life in the Charlotte area for The Observer, where he has been a reporter since August 2022. Zietlow’s work has been honored by the NC and SC Press Associations, as well as the APSE, which awarded him with Top-10 finishes in the Beat Writing and Short Feature categories in its 2021 writing contest. He previously wrote for The Herald in Rock Hill from 2019-22.

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