Round One of the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs comes to a close at the world’s fastest half-mile, Bristol Motor Speedway. With Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski winning over the past two weeks, both drivers have moved onto the second round. After failing pre-race inspection more than once, playoff contenders Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch had to start from the back of the field.
Last week’s winner, Brad Keselowski and his Penske teammate Joey Logano, led the field to green shortly after 4:45 pm PST. Keselowski was able to maintain the lead as Kevin Harvick moved to second place. After getting loose coming out of Turn Two, Kevin Harvick got around Keselowski, taking the lead on Lap 18. While running 16th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out the first caution of the night on Lap 29 as Jimmie Johnson got into him; Stenhouse Jr. slammed the inside wall, ending his night. Under the first caution of the night, all lead lap cars came down to the pits for service with Matt DiBenedetto exiting first, playing pit strategy.
Utilizing a two-tire pit strategy, Matt DiBenedetto and Tyler Reddick brought the field back to green on Lap 41. DiBenedetto launched ahead with the lead as Brad Keselowski followed in second. DiBenedetto fell back to second as Keselowski made a move to the outside on Lap 44. As Kyle Busch sliced and diced his way to the front, Chase Elliott got around Keselowski for the lead with 17 laps left in the stage. Elliott was able to keep Kyle Busch at bay and took the green-and-white checkered flag. All lead lap cars came down to the pits for fuel and tires, with Kyle Busch gaining one position, and the lead, with Chase Elliott in second. Upon completion of the stage, Joey Logano clinched a spot for the next round of the playoffs via points accumulated.
With Kyle Busch on the outside line and Alex Bowman to the inside, Stage Two commenced on Lap 136. Kyle Busch easily kept the lead with Bowman in second and Chase Eliott in third. With 63 laps left in the stage, Matt DiBenedetto made an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel, losing three laps in the process. Martin Truex Jr. made an unscheduled stop for a tire that was coming apart, losing multiple laps. Once back on track, he and Denny Hamlin made contact, resulting in front end damage to Hamlin’s car. While running tenth, William Byron brought out the caution with 18 laps left in the stage. The damage to Byron’s car was terminal, ending his night and playoff hopes. The lead lap cars came down to the pits for service with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick maintaining first and second position.
Kyle Busch powered ahead with the lead as Harvick held onto the second position. With one lap left in the stage, the caution flag came out once again as Ryan Newman spun through the turns. With such few laps left, Stage Two ended under caution, with Kyle Busch taking the green-and-white checkered flag. Matt DiBenedetto was in the ‘Lucky Dog’ position and was able to rejoin the lead lap. The front running cars stayed out during this caution, while drivers in the back came to the pits.
With Joey Logano to his outside, Kyle Busch brought the field back to green. Kyle Busch was able to hold the lead as Harvick leapfrogged Logano to take over the second position. On Lap 281, Kevin Harvick was able to get around Kyle Busch for the lead. As the race crossed Lap 300, multiple drivers began to experience issues, including Alex Bowman coming to the pits with a loose wheel, Denny Hamlin lost a lap, and Brad Keselowski had his night end early with a power steering issue.
The playoff drivers with issues continued as Kurt Busch came to the pits around Lap 328 with reports of a loose wheel. Just as green flag pit stops were beginning, the caution came out as Austin Dillon and James Davison made contact. After pit stops, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch restarted the race 1-2.
Harvick was able to fight off Kyle Busch and hold the lead as the laps ticked away. Kyle Busch was able to use traffic and took the lead back from Harvick with 41 laps left in the race. Kyle Busch relinquished the lead back to Harvick with the lapped car of Logano holding up Busch. Harvick and Busch continued to battle for the lead through the rest of the race, with Harvick holding off Busch and taking the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Though the race was not the wreck-fest that some might have predicted, the race played out like an old school NASCAR race. With few cars on the lead lap and an elongated battle for the lead, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race felt like a throwback to races of yesteryear. The Round of 12 is now set, while Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, and William Byron were eliminated. What were your thoughts on tonight’s race?
Next week, the Round of 12 begins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.