Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol
For the first time since Indianapolis, there will be a 40-car field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and for the first time since Talladega – way back on May 7 – at least one team will fail to qualify.
All 39 teams from Michigan will once again run at Bristol, as well as Timmy Hill, driving for Motorsports Business Management’s #66 (and running double-duty in XFINITY), and J.J. Yeley in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #7 (running triple-duty), both drivers and teams last seen at Indianapolis. It will be Yeley’s first Cup start at Bristol since 2011, while Hill ran 37th in the spring for Rick Ware Racing. As of this writing, Ware's driver has yet to be announced, but the sponsor of the #51 Chevrolet will be NEX Transportation.
Bristol also marks the fifth Cup start of the season for Joey Gase, who will again bring sponsorship from Best Home Furnishings to BK Racing. Gase last drove for the team at Kentucky, where a crash left him 36th, and his season-best 21st came with Premium Motorsports at Talladega. Corey LaJoie returns to BK’s #83 Toyota for the first time since Michigan in June. Brett Moffitt, Stephen Leicht, and Ryan Sieg, who all drove that car earlier this year, are not entered in Saturday’s Cup race.
Gray Gaulding moves back to Premium Motorsports’ #55 team for the first time since Indianapolis for his first start with Premium since the following round at Pocono. The car was originally listed with Derrike Cope and returning sponsor Twin Peaks Restaurants, but today was revealed Pocono sponsor La Colombe would back Gaulding's ride. Gaulding finished 29th at Bristol in the spring, when he drove for BK Racing. Reed Sorenson returns to Premium’s #15, and will bring with him last week’s sponsor Low T Centers.
Last week at Michigan, Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing fell just short of their fourth-consecutive Top 20 with a 27th-place run after a late spin. They return to Bristol, site of a 26th-place finish in the spring, with new sponsorship from bulk cleaning wipe supplier Wipes.com.
Chris Buescher turned heads at Michigan with a daring four-wide pass heading into Turn 3 to finish a season-best 6th. It’s his third finish of 11th or better in the last four races. Buescher returns to Bristol, where an early crash left his backup car last in the spring, but don’t forget that he ran 5th here last August, taking a big step toward shoring up his surprising spot in the Chase.
Food City 300 at Bristol
42 teams are listed to run Friday’s XFINITY race in Thunder Valley, the most cars entered in the series since last month at Kentucky.
New this week is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who will run double-duty in Cup and XFINITY for the first time since his XFINITY victory at Richmond last year. Junior’s Hendrick Motorsports-prepared #88 Chevrolet carries sponsorship from Goody’s headache medicine, specifically their “Mixed Fruit Blast” flavor. It will be Junior’s first XFINITY start at Bristol since 2012, when he finished 5th, and will eye his first series win at the track since 2004. Fellow Cup regulars Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, and Reed Sorenson will also run on Friday.
Sorenson’s XFINITY ride is the “start-and-park” #15 Chevrolet belonging to JD Motorsports, a team we last saw in July at Iowa. Last week at Mid-Ohio, Ross Chastain challenged for a Top 10 early, spun, then recovered to finish 15th. A crash and a transmission issue knocked-out his JD Motorsports teammates Garrett Smithley and Sheldon Creed. Chastain and Smithley are back this week, as is Harrison Rhodes, who returns to his #01 teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet. Rhodes picked up his track-best 23rd-place finish at Bristol this past spring.
Following a 26th-place finish for Richard Childress Racing at Mid-Ohio, Ben Kennedy moves back to GMS Racing’s #96 Chevrolet, a team which hasn’t run since Brett Moffitt took it to an 11th-place finish at Iowa. Kennedy’s teammate, Spencer Gallagher, will look to rebound from a mid-race crash that left him 36th. Gallagher finished 18th at Bristol in the spring and 12th in the Truck Series last summer.
Welcome back Tommy Joe Martins, who also returns to the series for the first time since Iowa. This past spring, Bristol was to mark the return of his team, Martins Motorsports, to the XFINITY Series for the first time they missed the show in 2014 before rain forced their withdrawal. This time around, Martins will again drive for B.J. McLeod in the #78 Chevrolet. McLeod, who ran 36th in Sunday’s Cup race due to a cracked exhaust pipe, will run his own #8 for the first time since Iowa.
Also returning to XFINITY for the first time since Iowa are Brandon Brown, back in Mario Gosselin's #90 Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet, and Mike Harmon, who will again be behind the wheel of his #74 Veterans Motorsports, Inc. Dodge. This weekend marks 15 years since Harmon’s terrifying crash into a loose crossover gate at the track. After he miraculously walked away, Harmon parked Larry Gunselman’s backup car in the race itself.
Jeb Burton will make his first XFINITY start since Indianapolis, and will again run JGL Racing’s #24 Toyota. Burton last ran at Bristol this past spring, where he finished 26th, and his season-best finish remains a 4th at Daytona. This week, he carries sponsorship from his father Ward's wildlife foundation.
Driving for Motorsports Business Management are Timmy Hill in the #13 Dodge and Chad Finchum in the #40 Chevrolet. Finchum makes just his fourth XFINITY start of 2017 and his first since Indianapolis, where he ran 32nd in MBM’s Dodge. After several races of running plain black machines, both MBM cars debut new paint schemes this week.