Bristol Motor Speedway had the potential to turn the Race to the Chase upside down.
But instead, all four winless drivers that went into Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race holding a Chase Grid position not only left Bristol still on the Grid but having increased their points cushions.
Here’s a look at how those on the Chase bubble fared in Thunder Valley…
13. 20-Matt Kenseth, 751 points
Finished 3rd at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 13th, +58 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 13th, +83 over 17th
Kenseth had a near-miss on Saturday night at Bristol, but he’s pretty much set to go into the post-season on points after a solid third-place effort that helped him add 25 markers to his cushion over 17th place. If you’ve had his name penciled in on the Grid, go ahead and erase that – then put it in ink.
14. 31-Ryan Newman, 710 points
Finished 13th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 14th, +28 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 14th, +42 over 17th
Now, if you’ve also penciled in Newman’s name, I’d keep the pen handy for next weekend at Atlanta. On Saturday, Newman hovered around the Top 10 for much of the night before a tight handling condition caused him to fade to 13th – but he still banked 14 points for his cushion. He could be a dark horse for Atlanta, where he finished in the Top-5 last year and where his Richard Childress Racing team recently tested.
15. 15-Clint Bowyer, 699 points
Finished 17th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 15th, +21 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 15th, +31 over 17th
After taking damage to his car as part of his involvement in Saturday’s first major incident, Bowyer eventually dropped off the lead lap in the second half of the race. But he was still able to salvage a Top-20 finish that enabled him to bank 10 points.
16. 16-Greg Biffle, 694 points
Finished 10th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 16th, +9 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 16th, +26 over 17th
Biffle’s picked up his pace at the right time. His 10th-place run on Saturday was his fourth consecutive Top-10 finish (fifth at Pocono, eighth at Watkins Glen, 10th at Michigan) and it was enough for a 17-point swing in his favor. The Biff had some luck on his side at Bristol; contact from Paul Menard on Lap 372 left his rear bumper cover dangling to the side, but a caution came out just a few laps later, giving his No. 16 squad a chance to remove it in the pits.
17. 42-Kyle Larson, 668 points
Finished 12th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 19th, -24 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 17th, -26 behind 16th
Larson’s weekend at Bristol was one of survival – but survive, he did. After crashing his primary car in qualifying, Larson had to start Saturday’s race from the rear of the field in a backup. Following a solid opening run into the Top 20, he then took some damage in the Kyle Busch-Aric Almirola crash on Lap 125. But Larson recovered from the setback and turned in a 12th-place effort, which was enough to push him two positions up the Chase standings.
18. 5-Kasey Kahne, 661 points
Finished 35th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 17th, -9 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 18th, -33 behind 16th
Normally solid at Bristol, Kahne was looked at as a potential surprise for Saturday. Instead, a loose wheel caused him to pit from the Top 5 in mid-race and fall off the lead lap. Then later in the race, problems with the right front tire forced Kahne behind the wall around 100 laps to go. He returned to the track to finish 35th, but took a 24-point hit and fell one spot in the Chase standings. Atlanta may be another opportunity for a win, however, as he’s taken two victories on the 1.5-mile oval (2006, 2009).
19. 3-Austin Dillon, 654 points
Finished 28th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 18th, -22 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 19th, -40 behind 16th
Dillon had a rough night from the very beginning, sliding all the way back to 40th and going one lap down in the early stages due to poor handling. He soldiered on to a 28th-place result, but now he’s got to go hard for a win this coming weekend at Atlanta. Will that aforementioned RCR test session help him contend?
20. 27-Paul Menard, 649 points
Finished 9th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 21st, -46 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 20th, -45 behind 16th
Menard was running in the Top-5 late, but fell back a few spots after the final restart. The 9th-place result got him up to 20th in the Chase standings, but his points deficit only shrank by one marker. Like with RCR teammate Dillon, Atlanta will be big.