The MENCS heads back to Bristol Motor Speedway this week for Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. This is one of the most popular races of the season. If you like action, this race is for you. There were two practices Friday and qualifying will be held Friday night. The race can be seen Saturday night at 7:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Bristol…
The weather for practice was cloudy and 85 degrees. The forecast for the race Saturday night is for Thunderstorms (70% chance) and 75 degrees. The 10 degrees temperature change will not affect the track as much as the rain. If it does rain all day Saturday it will wash of the traction compound and take away the bottom lane. The skies are forecasted to clear Sunday afternoon so if they cannot race Saturday night the race will most likely be run at noon ET Sunday. I hope it does not rain!!
Teams were given three sets of tires for the two practices, one set for qualifying and eight sets for the race. This will be the same tore compound used in the April race. The Xfinity Series will use the same the tread as the MENCS so the drivers running the race Friday night should have an advantage because they will understand how the tires wear during the race. These drivers include: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon.
Traction compound was used this week. The track worked with the drivers to find the best lane to apply the compound. It was used at the bottom of the track (the same as in April). The bottom groove was the preferred lane in April but the compound quickly wore out the tires. The drivers who moved to the top to find fresh concrete (Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) were able to make up ground on the long runs because their tires did not wear out as fast. I expect this to be the case Saturday night.
Chase Elliott: Elliott did not run well at Bristol in April. He qualified 16th and finished 29th. Elliott will get some extra seat time this week since he will compete in the Xfinity Series car. Bristol ranks as the 16th best track for Elliott so he needs all the help he can get this week. Elliott said, “It starts off real nice. It has a lot of speed. The falloff does not feel bad. We should be close.” Elliott posted the fastest speed in the morning practice.
Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team currently sits 15th in the Point Standings. They could surely use a win before the playoffs begin and a trip to Thunder Valley should be their best chance. Johnson won at Bristol last year and he finished 3rd in April. Bristol ranks as his 3rd best track in the last 3 years. Johnson made some long runs and said, “Tight on the first half of the corner but decent on the exit.” The No. 48 team parked their car with 30 minutes left in the morning practice. Johnson said, “I’m bringing it in Big Earl. I got all I can get out of it here.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has only run the No. 88 car in one race at Bristol and it was a good one. Bowman qualified 8th, had a 9.34 average running position and finished 5th. It was one of his two top-five finishes this year (Pocono was the other). After his first run Bowman said, “Tight on entry and exit. Don’t loosen it up too much but really need the most help on entry.” The team was not happy with the long –run speed of their car. He said, “I felt like I was going to crash it in every corner.”
William Byron: The April race at Bristol was the first race for Byron in the MENCS at the track. He qualified 11th, had a 14.8 average running position and finished 18th. Byron did not have much luck in the Xfinity Series at Bristol either. He finished 12th and 22nd in his two races. Byron told NBCSN, “We brought a new package this week and the car was all over the track so we decided to go back to what we had in April. We will also lean on the No. 9 car for some help. We should be fine this week.”
Kyle Larson: Larson dominated the last race at Bristol. He qualified 6th, led a series-high 200 laps, had a series-best 138.8 driver rating and finished 2nd. Larson has never finished outside the top-10 at Bristol since they began to apply the traction compound to the track. He will get some extra seat time this week since he will drive the No. 42 car in the Xfinity Series race Friday night. Surprise, Surprise… Larson ran most of his laps at the top of the track. He still posted some of the fastest speeds. Larson said, “We know we are going to battle lapped traffic so it we can dial down the handling a little more I think it will work best for us. I am not too worried about overall speed. We have that already.”
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has been mediocre at Bristol since the track was resurfaced in 2012. He finished 9 of the 12 races between the 12th and 19th positions. In April he qualified 31st and finished 19th. McMurray currently sits 22nd in the point standings so he will need a win to make the playoffs. I expect this team to use a lot of strategy this week to gamble on track position. McMurray made some long runs at the top of the track. He felt his car ran the best at the top in April so the faster the top lane comes in, the better he will be. The car was too loose so they worked on tightening him up.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick is the only driver in the series to finish the last 6 races at Bristol in the top 10. The No. 4 car failed inspection in April so Harvick started 39th. He ended up finishing 7th in the race. Harvick made some short runs in the morning practice and he said, “The balance just feels a little off.” Harvick was the only driver running the middle groove and diving it into the corner. After some adjustments he liked his car.
Clint Bowyer: Bristol ranks as the 4th-best track for Bowyer. In April he qualified 14th, had a 12.65 average running position and finished 8th. Bowyer finished 2nd at Bristol last year. He has really run well at this track while racing for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Kurt Busch: Most people consider Busch one of the best drivers at Bristol because he has 5 wins at the track. The truth is Busch has not been to Victory Lane at Bristol since 2006. Bristol ranks as his 20th-best track since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing. His average finishing position at the track in the No. 41 car is 19.3. Busch made a long run in the morning practice and said, “Boys I almost lost it right there… It is way too loose.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola has not had a lot of success at Bristol in his career but things changed once he got into a Stewart-Haas Racing car. Almirola qualified 19th, had a 14.59 average running position and finished 6th. He has set career best runs at 8 tracks this season. Almirola sits 14th in the Points Standings so I expect this team to play it safe and try to finish in the top 12 Saturday night. Almirola was fighting a tight racecar. He was 27th fastest after his long run. At the end of practice Almirola told his team, “That was a great change. It feels like a different car now.”
Brad Keselowski: There is a trend with Keselowski at Bristol. He runs really well in the race but finds trouble in the final laps. Keselowski has a 12.18 average running position and a 27.3 average finishing position in the last 5 races at Bristol. In April Keselowski qualified 3rd, led 67 laps, won Stage 1 and Stage 2 and finished 23rd. He needs to find a way to complete all 500 laps and not 495 of them. Keselowski was working on his long-run speed and working the high side of the track. I would not worry too much about his single lap speed.
Joey Logano: Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers at Bristol. He has finished 5 of the last 6 races at the track in the top 10. He has also led laps in 5 of the last 6 races in Thunder Valley. Logano should get some help this week with the extra seat time since he will be driving the No. 22 car in the Xfinity Series. Logano liked his car. He said, “I got what I want at the bottom. When I moved to the top it was a little tight but it gets better as the rubber gets laid down.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney had one of the most dominant cars in the April race at Bristol. He qualified 5th, led 100 laps, had a series-best 3.05 average running position but finished 35th. The team will be using the car they raced at Dover this year. That car qualified 14th, had a 5.65 average running position and finished 8th. Blaney made a long run. He was trying to work the top groove and said, “Wow, I overdrove it there. Almost got into the fence. I’m bringing it in.” They made some adjustments to tighten up the car.
Paul Menard: Menard had a decent race at Bristol in April. He qualified 7th, had a 9.24 average running position and finished 13th. Menard currently sits 18th in the Point Standings and 70 points behind Alex Bowman for the last playoff spot. This team will have to gamble to steal a win this week.
Kyle Busch: Busch has 21 career wins at Bristol in the three NASCAR series. There is no doubt he will be the driver to beat Saturday night but there is no guarantee he will finish up front. Busch has finished 1st, 1st, 35th, 39th and 38th in his last 5 races in Thunder Valley. He will get some extra seat time this week in the No. 18 car in the Xfinity Series race Friday night. Busch has 9 wins at Bristol in that car. Busch was not happy with his car in the morning practice. He said it is way too free into 3 and 4.” He almost got into the fence. They made some major adjustments between the practice sessions. After his first long run in final practice Busch went to the top of the speed chart. He said, “Much better this time around.” The team told him, “Your fastest lap was on lap 7.” Busch had the fastest time in final practice.
Erik Jones: Jones has had some good runs at Bristol in his career. Last year he won the pole, led a series-high 260 laps and finished 2nd in the night race at Bristol. He also has 2 wins and 3 poles in the Xfinity Series at Bristol. The No. 20 team worked with the No. 18 team on their setups between the practice sessions. Both cars were very fast in final practice. Jones went out and posted the fastest speed after his first run.
Denny Hamlin: For some reason Hamlin has been really good in the Night Race at Bristol and not so good in the spring. Hamlin has finished 3rd in the last 3 August races in Thunder Valley and he has qualified on the front row in 2 of them. Hamlin should be up front Saturday night if he can avoid mistakes on a tight pit road. Hamlin made a long run and said, “There is something that is hitting the track as I get into 1 and 2. It sends me up the track a couple of feet and makes me have to put too much wheel into it.” They made some adjustments and sent him back out. Hamlin liked the adjustments to the car. He was 3rd fastest at the time.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has competed in 3 races in the MENCS at Bristol. He finished 18th, 15th and 11th. Suarez currently sits 19th in the Point Standings and 78 points behind Alex Bowman for the last playoff spot. This team will likely have to gamble to try and steal a win in the final three races. The 19 team sent Suarez out and told him to run 8 laps at the bottom, 8 in the center and 8 at the top to see where the car works the best. Suarez said, “Free at the bottom and gets tighter as I move up.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Bristol ranks as the 21st best track for Truex. After a rough race at Michigan, the No. 78 team needs to bounce back Saturday night. Truex started 26th and finished 30th in the Arpil race at Bristol. He needs to do a lot better than that this week if he wants to keep up with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The No. 78 team was not too worried about their single lap speed. They wanted a car which was fast on the long runs and it was working. Truex said, “It starts out free and tightens up as we get deep into a run. After 10-15 laps it is nearly perfect and does not fall off as much as it did last time we were here.”
Ryan Newman: Newman is one of the best “sleeper picks” at Bristol. He has finished 5 of the last 7 races at the track in the top 10. Newman qualified 30th, had a 13.97 average running position and finished 10th in the April race at Bristol. It was his 2nd consecutive top-10 finish at the track. Newman made some long runs and said, “It rolls through the corners really well. Just don’t change too much.”
Austin Dillon: Richard Childress Racing has found some speed thanks to the new Optimal Scanning System (OSS) the team purchased after the Daytona race. Dillon said the new scanning machines have helped RCR bring cars which are better prepared to the track. Last week Dillon and Newman both qualified in the top 6 and Dillon ran 2nd at the end of the race. Dillon finished 15th in the 1st race at Bristol so it will be interesting to see how much the new scanners help this week. Dillon said, “It has more speed than last time but still too tight.”
Ty Dillon: The No. 13 team has been using the OSS machine to help set up their cars too and it has been helping. Dillon was running in the top 22 last week when he ran over a battery. He will need better luck this week. Dillon has a 25.5 average finishing position in his 4 races at Bristol. I did not receive much information on the No. 13 car. His lap times were slow though.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne had a rough day at Bristol in April. He qualified 15th and lost his power steering. This is not the track where you want to lose your steering. Kahne finished 34th. Kahne made some long runs and said, “I feel more secure at the top than the bottom. It needs to be freed up on the bottom without losing too much at the top.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger was not happy this week when his team owner said. “The JTG Daugherty cars have speed, now we need the drivers to get the speed out of the cars.” It sounds like there are problems in the No. 47 team. Allmendinger has been a decent cheap pick in salaray cap games at Bristol. He qualified 18th and finished 17th in the April race at the track. AJ said, “The rear has pretty good grip but it needs to rotate through the center better.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher has competed in 3 races at Bristol in his JTG Daugherty Racing car. Buescher has never finished on the lead lap. In April he splattered his baked beans car all over the track when he wrecked it on lap 116. The cars usually qualify well but Buescher needs to keep them out of trouble in the race. Buescher opened final practice with a long run and said the car was a little too free.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace Jr. had one of his best races of the year at Bristol in April. He qualified 20th, passed Kyle Busch for lead, led 6 laps and finished 16th. His confidence should be high entering the race this week. Wallace made some short runs and said, “I need a little more response from the front. I cannot find the feel I need right now.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Bristol ranks as the best track for Stenhouse Jr. He has finished 3 of his last 4 races at the track in the top 10, including a 2nd-place finish in 2016 and a 4th-place finish in April. Stenhouse liked his car in final practice. He said, “The balance is really good. I am starting to get the rhythm down. I would not change anything.
David Ragan: Ragan had a really good run in the April race at Bristol and he was the best cheap driver in DraftKings contests. Ragan qualified 23rd, had a 17.82 average running position and finished 12th. The new Roush-Fenway Racing cars seem to be helping Ragan gain speed this season. Ragan was battling a car which was loose in and off the corners. Ragan scraped the wall but it was only cosmetic damage. After his final run Ragan said, “We went in the right direction there. That was a positive change.”
Michael McDowell: Bristol ranks as the 19th-best track for McDowell. He has a 27.1 average finishing position in the last 5 races at the track. In April McDowell qualified 9th and finished 38th. He had an accident on lap 9 of the race and he scored the fewest points in DraftKings contest. “Just a little but tight as the track is getting rubbered in. We need to free up the entry for sure,” were the comments from McDowell.
Matt DiBenedetto: Dibenedetto has not been very good this year but if he is going to have a good race it will be this week. Bristol ranks as the best track for Dibenedetto. He finished 6th here in 2016 and 21st in April. DiBenedetto made some long runs and he said, “It chatters the tires on entry. The same problem we had last time. I am not sure what to tell you.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin
Good Sleeper Picks: Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne and AJ Allmendinger
Click here for Friday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
NBC posted the Top-10 Average Speed from Final Practice
- Kyle Busch 15.678 Sec.
- Erik Jones 15.683 Sec.
- Kurt Busch 15.705 Sec.
- Kyle Larson 15.724 Sec.
- Daniel Suarez 15.745 Sec.
- Martin Truex Jr. 15.752 Sec.
- Alex Bowman 15.756 Sec.
- Paul Menard 15.758 Sec.
- AJ Allmendinger 15/760 Sec.
- Denny Hamlin 15.763 Sec.
Best 15-Lap Averages
- Kyle Larson 123.26 MPH
- Erik Jones 123.02 MPH
- Ryan Newman 122.91 MPH
- Ryan Blaney 122.84 MPH
- Kurt Busch 122.76 MPH
- Kevin Harvick 122.71 MPH
- Kyle Busch 122.68 MPH
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 122.68 MPH
- Daniel Suarez 122.67 MPH
- Jamie McMurray 122.39 MPH
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