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Hanging with Miss Cooper: What to know and who to watch this week at Bristol Motor Speedway
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Hanging with Miss Cooper: What to know and who to watch this week at Bristol Motor Speedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will roll into Bristol Motor Speedway this Saturday night.

Listen, I’m not going to call myself a genius, but I would not disagree if you called me a genius.

In last week’s preview story looking at the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, in one section titled “who could surprise this week?” I wrote the following:

“(Austin) Dillon… is coming off of a second place finish at Darlington last week, a race in which he could have challenged for the win if it were just a couple laps longer. Could lightning strike twice for Dillon two weeks in a row? It’s tough to see at Richmond, where he’s yet to finish in the top 10 in 12 career starts. But who knows, playoff momentum is a funny thing.”

Well it turns out playoff momentum is a funny thing because at Richmond Dillon finished fourth and led 55 laps. The way he ran prompted many shocked Tweets from those within the NASCAR industry, but I just sat back and basked in my genius-ness. (Is genius-ness a word? It is if you’re a genius, like me.)

Anyways, Dillon’s great run also moved up him from right around the cutline to sixth in the Cup Series points standings, solidly in a good place to make the Round of 12 and advance beyond this week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

But, like I said last week, playoff momentum is a funny thing and anyone can get hot at any time. With the playoffs getting cut from 16 to 12 drivers following Saturday night’s race, here’s a look at who’s driven the best and worst historically in Tennessee.

Who has run the best at Bristol

We won’t look too much at Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, or Denny Hamlin here (although between the three they have seven wins, 27 top-5s and more than 2,500 laps led at Bristol) because all three have already clinched spots into the next round of the playoffs. However, Keselowski is coming off of a win at Richmond, and Harvick and Hamlin have been the best cars all year, so a win from any of them would definitely not surprise anyone.

Even though the trio above have all had success at Bristol, no one has done better in Tennessee than the Busch brothers. Kyle Busch has led nearly as many laps at the short track as William Byron has ever raced there, and he’s reached victory lane eight times in 30 career starts.

Older brother Kurt Busch is no slouch there himself, winning six times and finishing in the top-5 12 times in 39 starts.

Kyle Busch is currently 9th in the points, and Kurt Busch is 11th. Neither driver has a win this season.

Who has run the worst at Bristol

Nine playoff drivers in all have never won at Bristol, but one name of the bunch may surprise you.

Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 Cup Series champion, has just two top-5 finishes at Bristol, and an average finish of 20.6, 11th among all playoff drivers.

Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman, currently 6th, 7th, and 8th in the standings, have also all never won at Bristol and have just five top-5 finishes combined.

Who needs the most help this week

Again, this is obviously Ryan Blaney, who has continued to struggle with very little explanation as to why.

Blaney is 16th out of 16 playoff drivers in the standings and 27 points below the cutoff line. Blaney told reporters after finishing 19th at Richmond on Saturday, “We have to win next weekend.”

Even though the No. 12 doesn’t necessarily have to win, a win obviously would be the most surefire way of not only firming up a spot in the top 12, but getting some momentum as they go on.

It won’t be easy though. Blaney has never won at Bristol, and has only once finished in the top 5 in 10 career starts. He has an average finish of 20.7, however he has led 439 laps there, including 60 in this year’s all-star race, so hope isn’t completely lost for the team.

Who could surprise this week

It’s hard to say a win by Truex would be a surprise – he has 25 in the last five years and has nine top-4 finishes in the last 10 races – but given how poorly he’s run at Bristol in the past seeing him reach victory lane there would be a bit out of the ordinary. He’s finished 30th, 30th, 17th, 13th, and 20th in his last five Bristol races.

Another driver who could truly surprise this week is Clint Bowyer. Bowyer has never won at Bristol, but he has eight top-5 finishes in 29 starts, and an average finish of 13.7, which is third best among all playoff drivers behind Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

Bowyer is also a free agent at the end of the season, and could be hoping a deep playoff run is enough for Stewart Haas Racing to bring him back to the No. 14 car. He’s currently 12th in the standings, three points above the cutoff line.

Heck, maybe Austin Dillon will surprise again this week too. Because as a genius once said “playoff momentum is a funny thing.”

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick: 2 wins, 12 top-5s in 39 starts; Average finish of 13.9; 912 laps led

Brad Keselowski: 3 wins, 6 top-5s in 21 starts; Average finish of 16.5; 912 laps led

Denny Hamlin: 2 wins, 9 top-5s in 29 starts; Average finish of 14.5; 828 laps led

Joey Logano: 2 wins, 6 top-5s in 23 starts; Average finish of 15.3; 766 laps led

Martin Truex Jr.: 0 wins, 2 top-5s in 29 starts; Average finish of 20.6; 282 laps led

Austin Dillon: 0 wins, 1 top-5 in 13 starts; average finish of 17.4; 0 laps led

Chase Elliott: 0 wins, 3 top-5s in 9 starts; Average finish of 12.7; 287 laps led

Alex Bowman: 0 wins, 1 top-5 in 9 starts; Average finish of 22.7; 0 laps led

Kyle Busch: 8 wins, 13 top-5s in 30 starts; Average finish of 13.1; 2,434 laps led

Aric Almirola: 0 wins, 1 top-5 in 22 starts; Average finish of 25; 2 laps led

Kurt Busch: 6 wins, 12 top-5s in 39 starts; Average finish of 14; 1,095 laps led

Clint Bowyer: 0 wins, 8 top-5s in 29 starts; Average finish of 13.7; 281 laps led

William Byron: 0 wins, 0 top-5s in 5 starts; Average finish of 17.2; 0 laps led

Cole Custer: 1 starts at Bristol, finished 35th with 0 laps led

Matt DiBenedetto: 0 wins, 1 top-5 in 11 starts; Average finish of 19.1; 97 laps led

Ryan Blaney: 0 wins, 1 top-5 in 10 starts; Average finish of 20.7; 439 laps led

Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.

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