Brad Keselowski heads into Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway as the most recent winner at the East Tennessee short track, winning there in June. Due, at least in part, to his win the previous weekend at Richmond Raceway, he’ll begin his quest for the Bristol 2020 sweep from the pole. He’ll have a teammate alongside on the front row for the green flag, with fellow-championship contender Joey Logano in the second starting spot.
“That’s better than starting at the back of the race,” Logano said. “I think starting at the front is a great thing, so we’ll continue to, hopefully, stay at the front and try to get a stage win, try to get our race win, most importantly. We’ve been pretty good there the last few races, both Brad and I, and [Ryan] Blaney has been good there, too. I think Team Penske should have some good cars there, and hopefully, myself and Paul [Wolfe, crew chief] and the guys are able to grow on what we had in the spring race there and the All-Star Race and have something. The interesting part about this weekend, really, is that this is the third time we’ve come to this racetrack this year. Even though we don’t have practice, the fact that you’re going back again kind of lets you take all those notes and everything that you’ve learned those first couple races and actually put it into use. Most of the time, we go into a track that’s not even close to the same, and you can never take what you learned and put it to use. Well, we have that opportunity now, so we’ll try some new things, some adjustments to our car from the last time we were there. We think it makes sense, but there’s no way of really verifying it until the race starts.”
Keselowski already has clinched his advancement to the second round of the playoffs ahead of Saturday night’s race, the final race of the first round, courtesy of his Richmond win. Logano also is near certain advancement, given his position in the points standings. Their teammate, Ryan Blaney, though, doesn’t have that luxury heading into the Bristol race. Blaney is 16th, last, among playoff drivers ahead of the first elimination race. He’ll start 14th Saturday night, with only fellow-playoff drivers William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto behind him.
“It is a place we have run pretty good at before; it is just a matter of kind of figuring out what we need to do later in the race to adapt to the track changing,” Blaney said. “Bristol is pretty big on that. I thought we were really good there in the spring but got a foot too high and spun out and, then, got wiped out. The All-Star race, I thought we were pretty good, but we had a different strategy than some guys and stayed out and had some old tires, and that didn’t work out. There are other times we have led a lot of laps and just haven’t finished it out. I think the biggest thing is just adapting to the track as the race gets further along and we get to that lap 350-400 mark and just try to adapt to the race track and what it is going to do. I think that is something that Todd [Gordon, crew chief] and I have talked about a lot this week and rewatched races and have been kind of going through them. I think that is the biggest thing. I wouldn’t say it is a must-win for us, because I think there is a situation where we could point our way in, but things would have to go our way. We just have to go out there and try to win the race and run the best we can. That is all we can do.”
Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick will start in the second row Saturday night, with Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott in row three. Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman will start seventh and eighth in the fourth row.
Reigning Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch, who still is in search of his first win of the 2020 season but is an eight-time Cup Series race winner and 22-time winner across all NASCAR national series at Bristol, will start in the ninth position. He’ll share the fifth row with Aric Almirola.
With the 16 playoff drivers lined up in the first eight rows of Saturday night’s starting grid, rookies Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell will be the highest-starting non-playoff drivers in row nine.