For the first time in NASCAR history Bristol Motor Speedway will serve as host to a Playoff race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The longtime home of the final Xfinity regular season race, Bristol is now the Round of 12 kick-off race.
While the Playoff opener is a huge deal and the 12 Playoff contenders will share the majority of headlines, one moonlighting driver is also garnering his share of the spotlight.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who famously coined the phrase “It’s Bristol, baby!” is suiting up to race at the iconic short track for the first time since he retired from full-time driving in 2017. Earnhardt will be at the controls of the blue, yellow and white No. 88 Hellmann’s Mayonnaise Chevy for JR Motorsports, giving his team five entries in what promises to be a very thrilling Food City 300 (7:30 p.m., USA Network and PRN Radio) on Friday night.
Six-time season winner John Hunter Nemechek comes to Bristol as the Playoff top seed, fresh off a win in Kansas, where he dominated the action and took the checkered flag a full seven seconds in front of the second-place finisher. The veteran driver of the No. 20 machine for Joe Gibbs Racing, has posted 13 top fives and 19 top 10s in a season that he has been out front for most of the time.
“I’m looking forward to getting the Playoffs started at Bristol," Nemechek said. "We came (to Kansas) trying to get the Regular Season Championship. I thought that we were going to have a 60-point day this weekend, and that’s what we did. We controlled what we could control. We did everything that we possibly could. So, let’s go to the Playoffs—I’m ready.”
Meanwhile, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill is right there behind Nemechek, and ironically claimed the regular season Xfinity title in his No. 21 Chevy. Hill won four times and posted 15 top fives and claimed 19 top 10s and certainly plans to battle door handle to door handle with Nemechek down the stretch.
“Just happy that we were able to bring home the Regular Season Championship, get the extra 15 bonus points--which is huge,” said Hill, who finished fifth in the regular season-finale. “But we’ve got to go to work. We’ve got to be better. The 20 (Nemechek) was the class of the field all day (at Kansas).”
In addition to Nemechek and Hill, there is a strong group of drivers among the 12 Playoff qualifiers, including former Bristol winner Justin Allgaier, and a host of drivers who have won at Bristol in either the Trucks or the ARCA series, including Sam Mayer, Chandler Smith, and Sammy Smith.
Five other drivers have tons of experience and are expected to make some Playoff noise come Friday night, including Josh Berry, Cole Custer, Sheldon Creed, Daniel Hemric and Parker Kligerman.
Two local Knoxville standouts are also in the field, as FOX race analyst Trevor Bayne, winner of the 2011 Daytona 500, will drive the No. 19 machine for Joe Gibbs Racing, and past Bristol ARCA winner Chad Finchum will pilot the No. 08 machine for SS GreenLight Racing.
In addition to Friday’s Food City 300, the race weekend also includes Saturday night’s Cup Playoff race, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7:30 p.m., USA Network, PRN Radio). A Thursday night doubleheader that includes the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the running of the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics (9 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio) and the ARCA Menards Series Bush’s Beans 200 (6 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio) will get the weekend started.
Off the track there’s tons to do during your Bristol visit with lots of activities available in the BMS Fan Zone and BMS Fan Midway. Kenny Wallace and John Roberts will host Trackside Live at the Food City Fan Zone Stage on Saturday at 4 p.m. where drivers and other newsmakers will be interviewed. Country music band Midland will perform the pre-race concert Saturday at 5:30 p.m. to get the fans revved up for the traditional driver introductions, where each driver enters to a favorite song or music. There will be post-race entertainment on Thursday and Friday, as DJ Sterl the Pearl will host the world-famous Foam Party after the Thursday night double-header, and country music singer Tim Dugger will perform after Friday night’s Food City 300.
To purchase tickets, visit the Bristol Motor Speedway website or call (866) 415-4158.