By R. Boden
Time to separate the men from the boys. One more race stands between our first round of eliminations and it’s time to put up or shup up. Can Harvick prove clutch and punch his ticket to the next round? Will we have yet another first-time winner on the season? More of the same old, same old? Nah- nothing about Bristol- or this season- has been the same old, same old. It’s Bristol Baby! Here we go.
Driver to Fade: Ross Chastain- Why, you might ask? If I were he, I’d be awfully nervous about these primetime, cutline races. There’s a laundry list of guys who the Trackhouse driver, put bluntly, has pissed off this season. If push comes to shove, and it’s a matter of staying alive…well, they certainly aren’t gonna take it lightly on the #1 team. Plus, his average finish here isn’t great- just 26.8. Look for him to try to stay quiet Saturday night.
Dark Horse: Brad Keselowski- Greatest driver introduction ever belongs to Brad Keselowski (which just so happened to occur at this track. Wait…who was it he called an a** again?). He isn’t racing for a title this season, but he hasn’t given up on getting to Victory Lane. He won here in 2020- 3 wins total at Bristol- and has recorded a slew of Top 5’s here. Strong qualifying efforts on Friday night give me hope that he’ll stick around the front.
Top 10: Kevin Harvick- He’s gotta win to stay relevant. Darlington was a total fluke, and last week, he got caught up in traffic and ended his own week a little early. But, all in all, he finished the ’22 regular season on fire. Harvick has won at Bristol 3 times in his entire career- including once in the past 3 years. Given where’s he’s qualified this week, I look for him to be strong. He’s got some real competition out there this week who will be racing him equally as hard, but he’s got a great starting spot. Top 10 for sure, based on experience and situation, alone.
Winner: Kyle Busch- Controversy, new contracts, and media events be damned, the #18 team will be dialed in on Saturday night. You could make the argument that this is one of the few times this season Busch will be driving without all the distractions…well, he is 2 points below the cutline, but this is one distraction he can take care of himself behind the wheel. How many times has he won here? 8. How many top 10’s? A million. The Kingpin of Bristol logs his ninth win at this very track at the Bristol Pro Shops Night Race on Saturday night!