In the hours leading up to NASCAR’s Night Race at Bristol, fans circled the speedway in a scene that looked almost pre-pandemic with trailers filling nearby lots and thousands of fans scattered around the track anticipating the start of the first cutoff race of the Cup Series playoffs.
Bristol Motor Speedway announced last Wednesday that it sold out tickets for the event, which kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN. BMS president Jerry Caldwell told The Observer he expects just under 30,000 fans to attend the race.
Bristol hosted an Xfinity race, won by Chase Briscoe, on Friday evening in which up to 20,000 tickets were on sale. Tickets were still on sale the day before that event.
Brad Keselowski, who is locked into the next playoff Round of 12 with a win at Richmond, is starting on the pole at Bristol’s half-mile track Saturday night. In addition to Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are also advancing to the next round — Harvick with a win at Darlington and Hamlin on points — while the remaining 13 playoff drivers are attempting to stay out of the bottom four in points, ideally with a win tonight.
The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race is 267 miles (500 laps) with stages ending on laps 125, 250 and 500.
Follow along here for lap-by-lap updates from Bristol Motor Speedway. Refresh this page for the latest updates and follow NASCAR reporter Alex Andrejev on Twitter at @AndrejevAlex.
10:34 p.m., Lap 500 (final): Kevin Harvick wins
Kevin Harvick won NASCAR’s Night Race at Bristol. Kyle Busch took second. This is Harvick’s ninth win this season.
10:08 p.m., Lap 404: Caution! Austin Dillon involved
The caution flag comes out for James Davison, who is not on the lead lap. Davison spins to the outside wall in front of Austin Dillon, who takes damage and drops to 13th. Hamlin and Elliott pitted under green just before the flag, and Harvick was about to, but he holds off when the flag comes out. Harvick and Busch lead in first and second on the restart.
10:05 p.m., Lap 330: Long green flag run, Harvick stays out front
Harvick continues to lead with Kyle Busch behind him. Then Elliott, Bowyer and Reddick follow in the top-five. Johnson and Jones (out of playoffs with Reddick) follow, then Almirola and Dillon trail on the lead lap. The race has stayed green through the stage so far, so the field will start pitting for fuel and tired soon under green.
9:50 p.m., Lap 280: Kevin Harvick takes the lead
The race goes back to green with Busch out front, followed by Elliott and Harvick. But Harvick quickly takes over in the final stage. Clint Bowyer, who was on the bubble as the final driver in position to advance before the race, is in the top-10. He catches a break with Byron exiting the race, since Byron finished above him in the first stage and was in position to pass him in points if he stayed in the top-10. Bowyer gets up to fourth place.
9:15 p.m., Lap 250: Stage 2 ends under yellow with Busch out front, DiBenedetto catches a break
DiBenedetto takes the wave around, and gets the free pass to put him on the lead lap as the yellow comes out with one lap left in Stage 2. The stage will end under yellow with Kyle Busch in first. Busch wins the stage by default, followed by Harvick, Elliott, Logano, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Almirola, Bowyer, Jones and A. Dillon gets stage points in the top-10.
9:04 p.m., Lap 234: Byron crash! Then another caution.
With 16 laps left in the stage, Byron is engulfed in a cloud of smoke and hits pit road with severe damage to his No. 24 Chevy. This will likely end his night (and his run in the playoffs) as he gets out of the car, which his team moves to the garage for repairs. On NBCSN, Byron says that the 51 car (driven by Gase) stopped on the straightaway after Byron was stalled behind Bell. “It’s super disappointing,” Byron says on the broadcast. “I have to go back and watch that because it’s kind of ridiculous.”
As the race gets back underway with a few laps left for green, another yellow flag is thrown for a Ryan Newman spin.
8:58 p.m., Lap 216: Hamlin takes damage as Truex pits
Martin Truex Jr. pits for a tire issue. He goes three laps down on the pit stop, but before that, Truex and Hamlin make contact as he pits. Truex has damage on the right side, while Hamlin drops from fifth to sixth with a lot a damage to his hood.
8:52 p.m., Lap 185: Bubble drivers struggle to find their footing
Both DiBenedetto and Blaney, who are in must-win situations (or at least, top-five it situations), are struggling to gain track position tonight. Both finished out of the top-10 and did not receive stage points and their night hasn’t improved in Stage 2. Blaney is racing in the P19-21 range, while DiBenedetto pits with flat right rear tire, dropping to 29th place. DiBenedetto goes two laps down after pitting. Kyle Busch continues to lead, while Hamlin gets up to the top-10, then into the top-five a few laps later. The order is Busch, Elliott, Harvick, Logano, Hamlin.
8:30 p.m., Lap 125: Chase Elliott wins Stage 1, Kyle Busch has a massive start
Chase Elliott took the lead from Keselowski with around 10 laps left in the stage, and Kyle Busch raced a from 13th place to second in 40 laps. Keselowski drop back to seventh to close the stage, while Harvick, Bowman, and Christopher Bell get points in the top-five. stage in third, followed by Kurt Busch in sixth. Byron, Logano and Wallace also race in the top-10, while DiBenedetto and Blaney miss the points. Logano is now locked into the next round on points. Kyle Busch gets to the lead on pit road and holds the spot for the opening laps off the restart.
8:16 p.m., Lap 83: DiBenedetto holding onto second
Keselowski continues to lead with DiBenedetto in P2. Elliott, who won the All-Star Race at the track in July passes Logano for third. Blaney is in the top-five holding onto fifth. Both he and DiBenedetto are seeking a top-five finish in all three stages for points. Kyle Busch has made a big jump to 13th, then eighth, then seventh place in a matter of laps.
8:08 p.m., Lap 55: Keselowski re-takes the lead
DiBenedetto choses the outside lane on the restart, but loses the lead quickly to Keselowski, who took four new tires. Keselowski makes the pass on Lap 42, but DiBenedetto holds onto second place, chased by Lognano. Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney follow.
7:55 p.m., Lap 28: Caution for Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson make contact as Johnson tries to round a lapped car. The No. 47 car of Stenhouse Jr. has left front damage and goes skidding into the inside wall with sparks flying behind him. Bubble drivers Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto are in ninth and 12th at the caution, while Gibbs drivers are up to P19 (Busch), P21 (Jones) and P29 (Hamlin). Stenhouse is done for the nigtht. On pit road, Ky. Busch gets stuck behind Suárez and loses six spots while DiBenedetto picks up spots with a two-tire pit stop.
7:47 p.m., Lap 10: Green flag, Keselowski leads early but Harvick takes over
Less than 15 laps into the race, lead cars start lapping those in the back. Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski leads all the opening laps, while Harvick and Logano race in second and third place until Harvick gets inside Keselowski and moves to P1 on Lap 18.
7:37 p.m.: Pre-race ceremonies underway
Drivers are introduced with the loudest “boos” coming for Kyle Busch, while fans also get loud booing Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano. Fans circle the track in the stands with spaces between groups of people. Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president Jerry Caldwell gives an introduction, then fans stand for “God Bless the U.S.A.” followed by the invocation and national anthem. Five jets fly over the stadium and the engines are fired as the jets circle overhead. Fans turning on their phone lights as music blares over the speakers.
Pre-race: More drivers to the back — Wallace, LaJoie, Yeley
NASCAR announces that Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie will join the Gibbs teams at the back for the start of the race. No. 43 driver Wallace was slated to start 27th, while No. 32 driver LaJoie was slated to started 30th, but both teams received a penalty for unapproved adjustments. The No. 15 team will additionally start at the rear for a driver change, substituting Brennan Poole for J.J. Yeley. Wallace, LaJoie and Yeley are all out of the playoffs.
Pre-race: Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars get penalties, sent to the rear
NASCAR announces that the cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones, all of whom drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, failed pre-race technical inspection twice and will start at the back of the field for tonight’s race. Hamlin was slated to start seventh and is already advancing to the next round of playoffs, while Jones (previously starting 20th) is ineligible for playoffs.
“It’s not ideal,” Hamlin said. “It’s just kind of putting yourself in a hole. But we don’t need any stage points. We’ve got 500 laps. If we’re good enough, we’ll get to the front.”
Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch, however, is still seeking his first win of the season and enters Bristol 18 points above the cutoff in the playoffs. Busch received a penalty last weekend at Richmond for two loose lug nuts on his No. 18 car after Darlington. Busch started at the back at Richmond and his team was hit with a crew chief suspension for the race, so Busch worked with a substitute crew chief for the race.
Busch got up to 13th to close the first stage in Virginia, but he’ll need to get up to the top-10 quickly tonight to gain critical stage points. He was slated to start ninth at Bristol before the penalty.