It has been a while in the NASCAR schedule since the teams visited a short track, but the wait comes to an end as the teams arrive at one of the most anticipated races in the schedule, the Bristol Motor Speedway night race. All the bumping and banging that you get on ‘the fastest half mile in the world’ but now it’s under the lights. The race at Bristol earlier in the season put on a great show with the race almost harking back to some of the Bristol races of old, with the old ‘boy have at it’ mantra being put to full use, so hopes were high for a repeat.
In Friday’s qualifying session all eyes were on Kyle Busch, who seems to dominant at Bristol like no other current driver. He became the first person a few seasons ago to win all three races at the track and is on course to repeat the feat with a win in the earlier Truck and Nationwide race as well as pole in the latter. But by the time the chequered flag came out on the session it was a different Busch on the front row, with Kurt setting the second fastest time. At the top of the tree was the number 11 of Denny Hamlin who captured his fourth pole of the season with a time of 14.878 seconds (128.969 mph). As for Kyle it wasn’t the qualifying session that he would have hoped for, after trying a slightly different line he slid up the track in turn three and spun his car round before crossing the line to go back and try again. Only for his second attempt to not fare any better as he spun out in turn two and would therefore now start at the back of the pack. No driver has ever come from the back at Bristol to win but if anyone can at this track it is Kyle.
As the green flag dropped for the start of the 500 laps Hamlin and Kurt go side by side for the first lap before the 11 is able to get his nose in front and clear the 78. Hamlin isn’t able to immediately pull away as Kurt continues to try put the 78 inside the 11 at every turn and take the lead. But Hamlin is getting much better traction out of the turns and is able to keep him at bay. Behind them Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards battle for third and Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano fight for fifth with the 20 trying to run the inside line but faces the same issues as Kurt. Hamlin eventually starts to pull out a slight gap but as this is only a half mile track it is less than 20 laps before they come up on back markers and due to the difficulty of getting round them Kurt catches back up to the 11. With the dominant line being in the middle of the track Hamlin gets held up by the 51 who is running that line and doesn’t move out-of-the-way in time. Finally Kurt’s move on the bottom line works as he is able to get passed the 11 and take the lead.
Kurt wastes no time in pulling out a lead of just under half a second, but while he is running great up front for Mark Martin in his first race as Tony Stewart’s stand in in the 14 car the race isn’t running as smoothly as he gets bumped into the outside wall and falls from 11th to 24th. Luckily he is able to keep the car running and no caution is needed. Kurt’s lead is now a massive two seconds ahead of the 11 but it gets wiped out when the 51 of Ryan Truex (making his Cup debut) hits the outside wall to bring out the first caution of the night. A big break for Kyle who was on the verge of being lapped. The top eight all stay out as the rest of the field heads to pit road. Even though the pit boxes are on both sides of the track it is still a tight pit road which can lead to incidents on it as neatly demonstrated by Brad Keselowski who on exiting his pit box catches the rear end of David Reutimann coming into his and spins him in front of the 2 and the 9 of Marcos Ambrose holding them up. Ryan Newman wins the race off pit row to restart in 12th (as well as the leaders staying out as did a few of slower cars) behind the top five of Kurt, Hamlin, Kenseth, Edwards and Logano.