CONCORD, N.C. – On Saturday night, Hendrick Motorsports and the NASCAR Cup Series will head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the final race in the Round of 16. At the end of 500 laps around "The World’s Fastest Half-Mile," 12 drivers will emerge with their title hopes intact.
It’s hard to comprehend just how fast Bristol really is. At only 0.533 miles long, you would think the speeds would not be terribly quick. However, thanks to progressive banking of 24 to 28 degrees, this Tennessee short track provides high speeds and a truly unique racing experience.
Bristol also presents some challenges when it comes to pit road. Earlier this week in an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive," No. 24 crew chief Rudy Fugle shared what makes the pit road aspect of Thunder Valley so tough.
"The hardest part is when the caution comes out, it seems like you have zero time before you come to pit road," Fugle said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio this week. "You’re sitting there waiting for the information to come from the driver or wanting to give him information. As soon as the caution comes out, he talks and then you’re on pit road and you really don’t have time to have a conversation. You’ve got to be ready to react to what he says and tell your guys what adjustments you want to make. It’s tough. It’s one of the major things that gets overlooked until you get there."
Sticking with the No. 24 team, driver William Byron enters Bristol with a 41-point cushion over the elimination line as he looks to advance into the Round of 12 for the third consecutive season. Historically speaking, Bristol has been a good track for the Charlotte, North Carolina, native. In the last two Bristol night races, he has earned back-to-back third-place finishes. Byron is also one of two drivers to win multiple night races in the Next Gen car.
The playoff cutline is not something that Kyle Larson or anyone on the No. 5 Valvoline team will have to worry about come Saturday. Thanks to a victory at Darlington Raceway to open the postseason, the Elk Grove, California, native has secured the 26th Round of 12 berth in Hendrick Motorsports history. Larson is a former winner of the race (2021) and has an average finish of 4.0 in his last three starts at Bristol's night race. In addition, his 850 laps led at the .533-mile track are his second-most at any venue on the circuit.
With a sixth-place run at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott boosted the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team's position in the owner playoffs. His group is now 12 points ahead of the elimination race. Although he has yet to find a points-paying win at "The Last Great Colosseum," the 27-year-old driver did go to victory lane in the 2020 All-Star Race here. His best runs at Bristol have come in the nighttime event where he has three top-five finishes and four top-10s in the last five races.
Bristol has been an up-and-down track for Alex Bowman. In 12 starts on the track’s paved layout, he’s earned two top-five finishes and three top-10s, with a best result of fifth (twice). In more recent memory, bad luck has plagued the No. 48 Ally Racing team. After earning stage points in the first and second segments in 2022’s night race, Bowman was collected in on on-track incident, ending his night prematurely. To date, Bristol is the lone short track that the 30-year-old driver has yet to win at in the Cup Series.
Here's what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Group practice will take place on Friday, Sept. 15 at 4:35 p.m. ET with coverage on USA Network. Immediately following practice, group qualifying will begin at 5:20 p.m. ET with coverage also on USA Network.
Elliott and Larson are in Group A, while Bowman and Byron will be in Group B.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 500-lap Cup Series main is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET with coverage on USA Network. A post-race show will take place on Peacock.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
Both races will be broadcast on the PRN Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO BRISTOL
5: In his last five starts at Bristol (on the concrete layout), Bowman has started inside the top-11 positions. Track position will play a key role in Saturday's main event.
10.514: Average running position for Byron in 2023. This mark is the second-best in the category among drivers in NASCAR's top division.
295: Points scored at short tracks in the Next Gen car for Larson. This is the second-most of any driver in the Cup Series.
299: Cup Series victories from Hendrick Motorsports. A win at Bristol would be the 300th time Rick Hendrick's team would go to victory lane in the premier series.
439: Amount of laps Elliott has led at Bristol in his career, which is his third-most at any track on the schedule.