Bristol Night Race Story Lines

Bristol

Bristol is the next stop in the "Road to Richmond." (Photo: Getty Images)

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BRISTOL, Tenn. - Motor Racing Network is keeping an eye on a number of storylines for tonight's IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway including the race to make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup and Mark Martin's debut as Tony Stewart's replacement driver:

"Road to Richmond" Gets Shorter
Only two races remain before the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway on September 7th and the field is set for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. There's only a 20 point difference from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in seventh spot of the standings to Kasey Kahne in 11th with Martin Truex Jr., last week's Michigan winner Joey Logano, Ryan Newman all still very much in the hunt for a playoff berth. Throw in the Wild Card race with Kahne and Truex Jr. currently holding those spots and the championship picture is about as wild as they come.

"It would be awesome to be sitting here and say we’re a virtual lock -- some guys are already locked in and I’m very jealous of that -- not going to lie," Truex said. "I don’t know, I quit looking at the points two months ago, honestly and I told myself that all we can do is what we’re going to do. There’s no sense in worrying about it, there’s no sense in losing sleep."

Martin to the No. 14
Mark Martin becomes the latest driver to replace the injured Tony Stewart in the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet. After Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car accident back on August 5th, Max Papis took the ride at Watkins Glen International with Austin Dillon driving last week at Michigan International Speedway. When word came this week that Stewart would be out for the year, Stewart-Haas Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing orchestrated a deal that released Martin from the MWR No. 55 Toyota and into the No. 14 Chevy for 12 of the last 13 races this season. Martin hasn't raced at Bristol since 2011 when he finished 12th and 38th, respectively.

“Well first of all I’m honored and humbled both to be asked to fill in for ‘Smoke’ (Tony Stewart)," Martin said. "I really look forward to Tony getting back with us. I just wanted to say that first of all. It has been a whirlwind for sure. Getting the details sort of sorted out Sunday and Monday really not until Monday and then taking the trip, I’m over in Arkansas right now with Arlene (Martin, wife). Taking a trip to North Carolina Tuesday and spending the day fitting seats and shooting pictures and getting to know people. Faces and names and the organization and everything else Tuesday and Wednesday were kind of a whirlwind for sure."

The Hunt for Six Wins
Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon will each be looking to become the active win leader at Bristol tonight. Each driver has five wins, and while Kurt has the best starting position in second, both Gordon and Kyle Busch will have to come from the back of the pack. Gordon qualified 32nd and Busch will have to start last after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. Kyle Busch will be going for his second sweep of all three of NASCAR's national divisions at BMS in ths same weekend.

"In qualifying, I just over-stepped it, got too high -- I was a little too loose and I just screwed up," said Kyle Busch. "It's not like I haven't come from deep in the field before - it's going to be a tall order. I've had pit road speeding penalties and gone to the back and come back and finished second in the spring."

Sweep on Kahne's Mind
Kahne's Chase aspirations will certainly get a major boost if he can become the first driver since Kyle Busch in 2009 to sweep both Bristol Cup races in a single season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took the checkered flag at Bristol in March and feels good about his chances Saturday night and his run into a Chase spot. He will start seventh.

“It’s a tough part of the season,” Kahne said. “But it’s kind of what we’re all here for, too, to step up when times are tough. I know we have a really strong team. I think we’ll be in a really good spot, must to put those final 10 (races) together. That’s what it’s all about.”

Can Earnhardt Jr. Stop the Slide?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is heading the wrong direction in the standings at exactly the worst time of the year. After starting the campaign with a string of consistent finishes and strong performances that kept Junior near the top of the heap, he's slid to seventh with only three races left in the regular season. Two straight finishes of 30th and 36th have put Earnhardt in a very precarious position and he's only 16 points from sliding out of the top 10. He's hoping for a run Saturday night like the sixth-place run he had at Bristol back in the spring.

"The car was pretty good, I don’t know," Earnhardt said after qualifying 19th. "It’s really tough to get ahold of this place. We haven’t qualified good here in a really long time.”

Hamlin Hoping for Turn Around
Denny Hamlin has yet to finish inside the top 15 in the last nine races, is hoping to turn around a tough summer stretch by starting from the pole in tonight's race at Bristol. Hamlin is the defending race winner and led 70 laps in that event.

"We've got something we can build on - it's a pole at a short track, which is no big deal to a lot of teams, but at any moment we can go from that 25th-place car on a weekly basis to winning a pole and winning a race," Hamlin said. "There's not a whole lot of teams that can say they can win at any moment, but I feel like we can."

Cup Debut for Ryan Truex
Ryan Truex will make his Sprint Cup debut in tonight's race at Bristol and will start 18th in the Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. His older brother, Martin Tuex Jr., was impressed how Ryan ran on the opening day in his first time in the car.

"He didn't test, he hasn't been in the Gen-6 car," said Truex Jr. "He hasn't run a Cup car in three years. He went out there in the second practice -- he's like 21st. He's like a tenth slower than me."

Bristol Fast Facts
  • There has been a caution after lap 450 in 10 of the last 13 Bristol races.
  • The driver leading the most laps won only three of the last 15 Bristol races, Kyle Busch won two and Brad Keselowski won one.
  • Thirteen cautions last August is the most in the last 12 races.
  • The longest green flag stretch was 65 laps last August, the shortest in the last 14 Bristol races.
  • The leader with 20 to go won the last six races, nine of the last 10.
  • Thirteen leaders last August is the most since the Bristol record 16, April 1989.
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