The summer night race at Bristol has been a staple on the NASCAR calendar for decades. But Saturday night’s 2019 edition will be the last for at least the foreseeable future.
The 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule makeover will see the second trip to Bristol move into September as part of the playoffs. It will mean an end to a tradition that began with the first summer visit to “Thunder Valley” in 1961. The lights went on 17 years later in 1978.
Some of the specialness of the prime time race eroded away with the proliferation of more night races on the NASCAR schedule. Suddenly what was so unique became somewhat run of the mill when places like Richmond, Charlotte, Kansas, Darlington and Daytona all added lights.
There is still an electricity in the air when the lights go on at Bristol and it was evident in Saturday night’s race. There truly is no other setting quite like the Tennessee short track and its coliseum atmosphere. It certainly doesn’t hurt when a thrilling finish with such an emotional tie-in as was the case in Denny Hamlin outrunning Matt DiBenedetto for the victory.
But a new chapter begins next year when the race carries much greater importance in the overall championship picture as a playoff destination. It should be a wild backdrop under the lights that has the possibility of creating a new, even better legacy for Bristol’s Night Race.
- The Cinderella story of Matt DiBenedetto didn’t make it all the way to Midnight but is was still incredible to watch. Days after learning he was out of a job in 2020, DiBenedetto came within laps of pulling off an upset by winning his first career Cup race. He isn’t the first driver to lose his ride in NASCAR and most certainly won’t be the last. But that doesn’t make the circumstances around the popular driver any easier to swallow. As has been speculated for months, DiBenedetto will not return to the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 entry next year ready to be replaced by Christopher Bell when an official announcement is made in the coming days. But DiBenedetto has taken the bitter turn of events in stride and with class. His emotional response after coming up one spot of victory certainly connected with many more. The support he has from the fan base as well as around the industry is a testament to DiBenedetto’s status in the sport. He deserves a shot at another competitive ride but whether or not that happens remains to be seen. He’s another example of a sometimes harsh sport where performance isn’t always the main reason drivers have rides.
- The star-crossed season of Kevin Harvick continued Saturday night in Bristol. The driver that won two times in the last four races and came to Bristol riding high after his Michigan victory was casualty just after the mid-race point. Harvick suffered a transmission problem driving out of his pit stall after a stop and went behind the wall for repairs. It was another example of the year Harvick has had compared to last season when he won eight times and rarely suffered a problem.
- Tyler Reddick put on a show in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race coming from the rear of the field to Victory Lane. Reddick was forced to the back after his car failed inspection four times plus he had to serve a pass through penalty. But despite the challenge, Reddick got to the front and took advantage of the misfortunes of both Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier to win. Don’t be surprised if Reddick becomes a back-to-back series champion, a feat even more impressive considering he’d do it for two different organizations in JR Motorsports last year and Richard Childress Racing in 2019.
- Speaking of class that’s the perfect word to describe David Ragan, another driver who announced his plans for the future in a busy weekend of news. Ragan won’t return to Front Row Motorsports next season and is stepping away from full-time competition to spend more time with his wife and young children. As someone who will always put family first, I applaud and empathize with Ragan’s decision. You will be hard pressed to find a nicer person in any walk of life than the soft spoken driver from Unadllia, Georgia and all of us at the Motor Racing Network wish him nothing but the best.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.