Night racing at Thunder Valley takes center stage this Saturday night in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Bristol Motor Speedway’s high banked half-mile track always produces the season’s most spirited races. The fall night races bring out the best and worst of every driver on the circuit. With 36 degrees of banking on such a short track, it is by far the fastest short track in the world. Each driver is able to drive hard into the corners and use the banking to stabilize on turns. Much like a spinning ball holding its position around a roulette wheel.
The short track and high speeds is what makes tempers flare to levels found at no other track. All it takes is an innocent bump on a turn to send someone into a wall. The bump is always intentional and in some cases, it is.
Because of that type of enraged intensity, the fall night race at Bristol is the enjoyable spectator race in NASCAR. In the spring race earlier this year, Las Vegan Kurt Busch (10-1) gained his first career victory.
In that race, Busch outdueled his nemesis Jimmy Spencer (45-1) down the stretch that included a "get out my way" tap by Busch that caused Spencer to get loose, but proved to be the winning move. By making that move, Busch would have to answer to the wrath of Spencer several months later at the Brickyard.
There really is no short track etiquette. What we have seen however is pretty routine. If a driver in front is slower and refuses to move out of the way to the faster car, expect to see him moved by force. If the driver moved by force loses several positions, expect to see the two hook up again sometime in the race with the scorned driver getting some type of retribution that deems satisfactory in their own personal kangaroo court.
While these retaliations are not tolerated by NASCAR on other tracks, they have become widely accepted at Bristol and considered just racing.
The hottest driver coming into this week’s race is Kevin Harvick (8-1). In the last eight races, no one has accumulated more points than Harvick. It is a drastic change considering he is still only 21st in points for the season. It’s perfect timing for Harvick because everything is coming together for his team.
Harvick has several other factors that make him one of the drivers to beat this Saturday night. The GM Goodwrench team knows how to set up a great car at Bristol evidenced by helping Dale Earnhardt win nine times. The team helped Harvick last year lead the most laps in the Bristol spring race last year along with a second place finish in the fall.
Harvick’s mentality has always been geared for the short tracks. His next and obviously biggest step is to get a short track Winston Cup victory.
Jeff Gordon (8-1) has now gone 31 consecutive races without a victory, the longest drought of his career. If the high odds posted are any indication, he’s not likely to win again this week. Those are the longest odds Gordon has had at Bristol since 1994.
Look for Gordon to qualify well, stay out of trouble, and take a shot for the win with 30 laps to go, but also be very happy with a Top 10.
The favorite this week is Tony Stewart (5-1) who won this race last year. Stewart is currently 84 points behind leader Sterling Marlin (17-1). This is a critical point for Stewart in his quest to become points champion.
Rusty Wallace (8-1) is a nine-time winner at Bristol. This is Wallace’s personal favorite track to race on.
Mark Martin (15-1) is inching closer to his first championship. Only 43 points away from the lead, Martin has always been one of the most tenacious drivers on short tracks.
A nice longshot to consider this week would be the venerable Terry Labonte (70-1). Bristol always seems to wake up Labonte. A top 5 finish wouldn’t be surprising.
TOP 5 AT BRISTOL
1) #29 Kevin Harvick 8-1
2) #20 Tony Stewart 5-1
3) #2 Rusty Wallace 8-1
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 8-1
5) #6 Mark Martin 15-1