THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR playoffs at Bristol: Bass Pro Shops Night Race preview, picks
It’s an elimination race this Saturday at Bristol for the round of 16. There are some heavy hitters below the cut line and this race is their last chance to move on to the round of 12 and keep their championship hopes alive. Bristol is one of the most famous tracks on the schedule, as its massive banking and short length make it difficult to pass on. With this being such a high-pressure race, we are sure to see a lot of angry drivers when it’s all said and done. On Thursday, the track officials added a layer of grip around the bottom groove, indeed, we will see many drivers fight for the inside line.
Last week we saw another non-playoff driver in Bubba Wallace take the checkered flag at Kansas. This had been a long time coming for Wallace as his performance has continued to improve as he has scored a career-high in both Top fives and Top tens. The mission for Bubba in these last ten races is to keep the #45 car in contention for the owner's championship as he switched numbers with teammate Ty Gibbs. He has put himself in a great position with this victory.
For some of the drivers currently in the playoffs, Kansas was a tough go as there were multiple drivers that fell out of the race. Drivers like Tyler Reddick and Kevin Harvick both were involved in crashes that would relegate them to 37th and 38th place. For Reddick, he has obtained a fair amount of stage points that give him a little bit of a cushion, but by no means is he safe. He’s only 2 points to the good over the 12th place cutoff line. As for Kevin Harvick, he is currently 16th in points and is almost in a must-win scenario to move on to the next round. Another driver that had trouble was Kyle Busch. He would spin early in the race and wasn’t able to salvage much as he finished a disappointing 26th place. This puts Busch one point below the cut line.
The biggest news article of the week and maybe of the year was the announcement of where Kyle would be racing next season. On Tuesday, as we all expected Kyle Busch was named the driver of the #8 for Richard Childress Racing. This had been a move that the two-time champion needed to make, as it was clear that Joe Gibbs Racing was ready to move in a different direction for next season. When asked about it in his press conference, Busch said he knew he wanted to go to the team after Reddick outran him in the clash at the coliseum. This gave him the confidence to make the move and sign his multi-year deal to drive for RCR. It was a bit ironic that Kyle would choose to come here considering Childress once had Kyle Busch in a headlock 12 years ago. But the two were able to laugh it off as Childress gifted his new driver one of his watches. This should be a fun partnership as they begin to fill out their sponsorship inventory for next season.
As we know, a lot of these moves usually have a domino effect. This one is no different, as there are now many questions about the future of Tyler Reddick. Both parties have stated that they intend to work together next season, as Childress plans on preparing a third team for his driver, who still has a year left on his contract. 2023 is going to be an awkward season.
As for who will drive the #18, it is becoming more and more clear that Ty Gibbs will get the call-up to replace Kyle Busch in 2023. This doesn’t come as a surprise, not just because his grandfather owns the team but because of how great he has been in the Xfinity Series as he’s the odds-on favorite to win the title. He’s also shown a lot of promise filling in for Kurt Busch.
Shifting the focus to this week’s race at Bristol, the driver I have winning this weekend is Kevin Harvick. The past two races have been a complete disaster for the 2014 champion. It started at Darlington when the car caught on fire out of nowhere, and then the next weekend crashed at Kansas. His back is against the wall, but this is where Harvick thrives. We saw back in his championship-winning season that he needed a win to move on to the championship race, and that’s exactly what he did. Bristol hasn’t been the best track for Harvick, but with the circumstances, there is no one I believe in more than him. Look for the #4 to take the victory come Saturday.