Crew change at the pit for teams Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson


Much attention will be paid to figures like Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney during Saturday’s Cup playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

But it’s good to remember that they, with Cole Custer and William Byron below the cut line, aren’t the only drivers whose playoff prospects are in jeopardy on the half-mile track.

Above the threshold of the playoff grid, three drivers will try to stay there throughout the 500-lap race.

While Clint Bowyer is three points ahead of Byron, the first driver outside the final transfer point, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola are each seven points ahead of Byron.

Busch, the only driver in the bottom seven of the playoff standings with a Cup victory in Bristol, is “ready to tear up” in Thunder Valley to keep his title hopes alive.

“I feel like every time you can go to a track you’ve been successful at in the past, it just gives you better feelings, it makes it easier to go through the checklist items,” Busch said earlier this week. “Our confidence is high before the race. We’ve done our homework and now we’re going to race. … We’ve got seven more points and that’s kind of how we’ve been all year – we’ve been squeezing 10th place all year.

Busch has six Cup victories in Bristol, the latest coming in the night race of 2018. He finished seventh in May to give him four consecutive top 10s.

Kurt Busch will look for his seventh Bristol Cup victory on Saturday night. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

The Chip Ganassi Racing rider spoke of the “weird little things” to be aware of every time you visit the short track.

Busch said there is one aspect about the track “(the owner of Speedway Motorsports) might not tell NASCAR, (and) NASCAR might not tell SMI.

“Then there is the Goodyear tire which appears with different stager values, even though it is the same tire code. So there are a lot of little things in Bristol all the time. But since this is a threshold, you just have to go and do it. Get the job done, don’t fear the pressure.

For Almirola, who admits his career experience at Bristol has been ‘a feast or a famine’, his No.10 side ‘just (has to) go for a run’ and ‘score the most points.

“It’s really about running and hitting and getting all the points you can get in each stage and then fighting for every place you can get in the race,” said Almirola, who finished among the top five in 22 Cup starts in Bristol. “Once the race is on and you get through the first two stages, you will definitely know where you stack up in points.

“If I’m sitting in seventh, I’m probably not going to cram it into the fence trying to get to sixth if I know I have a decent point spread to get back to where I need to be. On the other hand, if we need that seat or a few spots, then you’re going to be very aggressive and do whatever you can to get those points.

This is the first time that Bristol will be the site of a Cup elimination race.

Busch’s victory at Bristol in 2018 is the only one he has deserved there in the era of the stage format.

“In the past, to win Bristol, you would prepare for the 250 round, you would prepare halfway,” Busch said. “And you would just try to get through the first half of the race as best you can. But you can’t do that with the playoffs and with stage points anymore. So you have to put in the effort right away, but you have to build in that adaptability so that you can be that guy at the end who can win as well.

The lack of practice this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic is also changing the preparation of the teams.

“We’re staying on top in the best way possible,” Busch said. “I even asked the shocks department yesterday to have shocks that can have adjustable shocks in compression and rebound in case we were on our setup and needed to be aggressive with the changes. And the only time you can really do that is if you’re the last car in the lead lap at a pit stop or something like that. You need to be ready for all case scenarios right now. ”

For Clint Bowyer’s No.14 team, team manager Johnny Klausmeier has said they will be on offense all night.

“We’re definitely going to watch out for those guys within 30 points of us for sure to dictate our strategy, but at the end of the day you have to go on the offensive and that will only get you if far. trying to get away from others, ”Klausmeier said. “You also don’t want to put yourself in a bad position that will hurt you later in the race. So you kind of have to balance that out and see how you do speed, see how the car is handling and what you’re fighting and how you’re doing, and then go from there.

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