If you watched the preliminaries for Friday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, you had every reason to expect another Joe Gibbs Racing runaway. The numbers told the story: JGR's drivers had won 13 of the first 21 XFINITY races this year and they swept the top three qualifying spots at Bristol, along with the first and third spots in practice. Clearly, the stage was set for yet another JGR blowout on Friday night. But it didn't happen. In fact, it didn't even come close to happening. In a race that wound up going 308 laps, the powerhouse JGR Toyotas led just 32 laps, a little more than 10 percent of the distance. Kyle Busch, one of the best racers in Bristol history and the defending event winner, led only one lap and his JGR teammate Erik Jones led 31. That's it. So what does that mean for tonight's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race? Maybe everything. At the very least tonight's Sprint Cup race ought to be wildly entertaining, just as the XFINITY race was. JGR swept the top three qualifying spots and four of the top five for the Cup race and they, along with team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, remain the odds-on favorites to take home the trophy tonight. But speed alone is not enough to win this race, as we saw Friday night. Here are five keys to victory at Bristol:
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
No dumb mistakes
The tight confines of Bristol make it easy for cars to wreck each other. There just isn't a whole lot of room to stay out of harm's way with 40 cars shoehorned into a 0.533-mile track. And as Erik Jones found out Friday night, if you misjudge a pass you can take yourself and a teammate out in one fell swoop.
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
Lapped cars can be your best friend or your worse enemy at Bristol. Navigating the backmarkers is critical for the race leader, because if he takes the wrong line and gets stuck behind a slower car, the drivers behind him can pass.
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
In Friday night's race, Brad Keselowski eschewed a late-race pit stop when most of the leaders came down pit road for fuel and tires. That gave Keselowski the critical track position he needed to win the race with a car that wasn't as fast as the best ones in the field. Unfortunately for him, the race went into overtime and when it did, he ran out of gas. Tonight, you absolutely will see drivers gamble on tire and fuel strategies.
Getty ImagesRey Del Rio
Keep it clean
This one is simple: A bad pit stop can cost you the race. It's so hard to pass here that drivers can't give up positions anywhere, but especially not during pit stops. Drop a lug nut, lose a dozen spots on pit road and your hopes of winning might well be over.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesRainier Ehrhardt
Location, location, location
Track officials have done everything they can to make the bottom groove grippier at Bristol. But as Kyle Larson showed Friday night, if you can get your car hooked up in the top lane, no one will be able to pass you on the bottom. On late-race restarts, the driver starting up top will have a huge advantage.