CONCORD, N.C. – The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night for the third race in the 2022 playoffs. The event will serve as the first cutoff race this season, eliminating four playoff drivers from championship contention.
The short track in the Tennessee mountains has become one of the most famous tracks on the Cup Series calendar. Commonly known as "The World’s Fastest Half-Mile," Bristol owns a rich history dating back to its first year of operation in 1961. Its concrete surface boasts variable banking of 24-28 degrees in the turns, by far the steepest of any short track visited by the Cup Series. The facility also utilizes two separate pit roads, throwing in a unique challenge for drivers to navigate while coming in for service.
Hendrick Motorsports has already stopped by the short track this year for the second-ever dirt race at Bristol. Saturday’s event will see a return to the traditional concrete surface under the lights at the .533-mile track.
Last season’s playoff race at Bristol was an exciting one for Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Larson paced the field for 175 laps on his way to victory, grabbing his sixth of 10 victories en route to the 2021 championship. This is one of the 30-year-old's best tracks as he has a win, three top-two finishes and six top-10s in his last seven starts there. Over that span, he has led over 170 laps on three different occasions.
Both William Byron and Alex Bowman entered last year's playoff race needing solid runs to advance into the Round of 12. In fact, Byron entered the race below the cutoff line and Bowman was tied for the final spot. With finishes of third and fifth respectively, the teammates pushed through to the next round. Byron has two top 10s in his last three starts at Bristol and Bowman has three top 10s in his last eight starts at the venue.
Chase Elliott led 129 laps on the evening, but contact while battling for the lead late in the race with Kevin Harvick resulted in Elliott’s left-front tire being cut down. Despite the issue, the driver of the No. 9 was able to advance into the next round on points and eventually ended the year as one of the Championship 4 at Phoenix. Elliott has led 423 laps over the last six Bristol races on the concrete surface and he has also won the last two races held on concrete layouts (Dover Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway this season). This weekend's race marks the Dawsonville, Georgia, native's 250th start in the sport's top series.
Coming off Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway that saw all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers end the race inside the top-11 spots, the quartet enters Bristol above the cutoff line. Byron (+48), Bowman (+30), Elliott (+28) and Larson (+27) will all start Saturday night’s event well positioned to keep their championship hopes intact. If each driver is able to advance, this would be the second year in a row that Hendrick Motorsports would have all four drivers in the Round of 12.
As an organization, Hendrick Motorsports has claimed victory at "The Last Great Colosseum" 12 times. Jeff Gordon leads the way with five triumphs followed by Jimmie Johnson with two. Larson, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne have each accounted for one victory at Bristol. Those 12 victories are among the team's 55 short-track wins in its history - the 55 short-track wins are the most among all Cup Series teams.
Here is what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Cup Series group practice will take place on Friday, Sept. 16, at 4:35 p.m. ET with coverage to start on the NBC Sports App. USA Network will join in progress at 5 p.m. ET. Group qualifying will follow practice and begin at 5:20 p.m. ET and will be on USA Network.
Elliott, Larson and Bowman are all in Group A, while Byron is in Group B.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 500-lap Cup Series race is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 17, and will be broadcast on USA Network.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
The race will be on PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
Yes. Download the NBC Sports App for online coverage. Fans can also keep up with the action on Twitter by following @TeamHendrick.
WHAT DO DRIVERS NEED TO ADVANCE INTO THE ROUND OF 12?
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers can advance to the Round of 12 on points. No matter what other drivers do at Bristol, Byron will lock up a spot in the next round if he earns eight points. Bowman is guaranteed a spot in the next round if he earns 26 points. If Elliott and Larson each score 28 and 29 points, respectively, they too would be locked into the second round of the playoffs.
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO BRISTOL
Data provided by Racing Insights
2: Hendrick Motorsports has had at least two drivers in the Round of 12 each season since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014.
20: Points gained by Bowman on the cutoff line at Kansas. This was the second-most of any playoff driver in the field in that race.
133: Byron's points from the three paved short-track races this season. The 24-year-old driver leads the Cup Series in this category.
604: Laps led by Elliott during the last five short-track races. This is 270 more than Byron, who is the next closest driver on the list.
816: Larson’s laps led at Bristol in his career. This is his second-most at any track on the Cup Series calendar.