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It’s back to the usual suspects winning 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, as Kevin Harvick leads all drivers into Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The series had a brief reprieve from seeing the same faces take checkered flags thanks to Chase Elliott’s victory August 5. But Harvick’s return to Victory Lane in Michigan reset things to normal and also pulled him ahead of Kyle Busch’s six wins.
For those counting, eight drivers have won a race this year—and only four have multiple triumphs. Harvick and Busch account for 13 victories, while the next closest driver is Martin Truex Jr., sitting at four.
Based on recent history at Saturday’s event, fans can expect another showdown between the top names underneath the bright lights of a night race.
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Kyle Busch
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Erik Jones
5. Austin Dillon
Note: Qualifying is Friday.
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Kevin Harvick||934|
|2. Kyle Busch||986|
|3. Martin Truex Jr.||842|
|4. Clint Bowyer||732|
|5. Joey Logano||723|
|6. Chase Elliott||647|
|7. Erik Jones||596|
|8. Austin Dillon||451|
|9. Kurt Busch||750|
|10. Brad Keselowski||709|
|11. Ryan Blaney||687|
|12. Denny Hamlin||684|
|13. Kyle Larson||681|
|14. Aric Almirola||639|
|15. Jimmie Johnson||572|
|16. Alex Bowman||542|
Drivers to Watch
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
It’s a little odd that Brad Keselowski has yet to getting on the winner’s podium.
Typically a staple in the playoff conversation, he’s hanging around the double-digit mark on the leaderboard without a win in what has been an oddly inconsistent season. He’s finished 20th or worse seven times, including twice over his past four outings.
However, Keselowski’s runner-up finish at Michigan last time out—his best finish since mid-February—may be what he needed to turn a corner.
“It’s nice to just be able to have a clean race, or mostly clean,” Keselowski said, according to Daniel McFadin of NBC Sports. “To be able to kind of get the finish we deserve, that’s important. It’s important to get what you have out of your car, and although we might not have race‑winning speed, you still need to execute.”
Keselowski won Saturday’s event back in 2011 and Bristol has a habit of at times pulling a shocker or two.
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Busch is now looking up to Harvick on the leaderboard, which sounds much more negative than it is—after all, the man has six wins on the season.
As if the six wins weren’t enough, Busch also has three poles, 17 top-five showings and 19 top-10 performances. He finished third in Michigan, putting him at fourth or better in five successive races, including one win. So, no, falling behind on the leaderboard isn’t a big deal.
And it gets even better.
Busch is the master at Bristol lately, boasting seven Cup wins and 21 overall at the track over the three top series (Xfinity and Camping World Trucks included). He not only won this year’s prior race at the track but also didn’t lose there a year ago.
“Obviously, we’re kind of on a hot streak with Bristol,” Busch said, according to Mike Hembree of USA Today. “We love going there. I would like to think that we can go there, be fast and be able to respond, absolutely. So we’ll see what we can do getting there, and hopefully having a fast race car and doing what we normally do there, just try to stay out of trouble. It’s a tough place to stay out of trouble.”
Call BMS right up Busch’s alley in terms of style thanks to the close, aggressive racing fans love.
While Busch hasn’t always been the hero this year in the minds of fans, he’s entertaining. And sitting second on the leaderboard gives him a little extra motivation to go out and put on a show.
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
While Busch is the defending champion at Saturday’s race, Harvick was the winner back in 2016.
It’s hard to doubt Harvick won’t hang on to the series lead, even if Busch does enter with plenty of recent history. Now 42, this is the first time he’s been at or above the six-win mark in a season.
It’s fair for fans to wonder whether he wants to hit the magic number of eight.
As ESPN’s Matt Willis noted, eight has some good and bad things going for it: “Only three drivers in Cup series history have won eight or more times in a single season after turning 40. Most recently, it was Bobby Allison, an eight-time winner in 1982…he didn’t win the championship that year.”
Three races remain for Harvick to chase his eighth win. He’s helping keep the focus fixed on the top of the leaderboard, where he will keep looking to distance himself from the pack. Playoff positioning in the postseason can come back to haunt drivers, so being dominant at BMS and otherwise would be a good way to keep sharp.
While fans might tire of seeing the same names winning, watching a guy like Harvick chase some modern history isn’t a bad consolation prize. If anything, the closeness of the racing Saturday should equate to a nail-biting finish, which hasn’t been the case over the past few events.