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Should the Bristol Night Race Be Considered a NASCAR Crown Jewel?

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The Bristol Night Race is coming up this weekend, and it is one of the most highly anticipated races of the season whether it is a Playoff cut-off race or not. However, is this race worth being considered one of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” events? Let’s take a look at the race, and what would make it potentially worth being considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

What Makes the Bristol Night Race so Special?

In an era where attendance is not what it once was at NASCAR races, the Bristol night race still brought in reportedly over 100,000 people in 2022 according to johnsoncitypress.com. It still is one of the most highly attended races of the year. Now yes, it is a far cry from the 160,000+, seemingly unending ticket waiting list days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it is still a big race from fan attendance in the modern context of the sport.

So, what makes the fans come back to Bristol Motor Speedway year after year? First off, it is simply an incredible venue with really nothing else like it. The high-banked short track produces a spectacle for the eyes unlike any other.

Cars doing 100-130 miles per hour on the high banks look like they’re going 220. The towering grandstands keep the sound inside of the seating bowl, which makes the already incredible sound of stock cars even more magnified. On top of that, the racing is perennially incredible.

Bristol is a short track, and that is truly NASCAR’s bread and butter. It produces close racing, beating and banging, and the tempers flaring that NASCAR is known for. It produces what makes NASCAR truly unique from other forms of motorsports that exist.

The race is also very historic for NASCAR. In 1978, when NASCAR began running the August Bristol race at night, night racing was still a novelty in NASCAR. People still thought it was not possible to light up the massive venues that NASCAR raced at, but Bristol was one of the very few venues they could do it at.

For many years, after the Nashville Fairgrounds left the schedule, Bristol was the only race that NASCAR ran at night. As a result, the event took on a life of its’ own, and that brand has remained even though most race tracks on the circuit currently have lights. Night racing is no longer the novelty it once was, but Bristol is different.

The Incredible Moments in the History of the Bristol Night Race

The Night Race at Bristol has also been the site for many of the greatest moments in the sport’s history. These great moments are part of why many could consider this to be a “Crown Jewel” race. Here are just a few of these great moments.

1995: Terry Labonte Crashes and Wins

In 1995, Dale Earnhardt found a way to close up on Terry Labonte in the final lap of the race. Earnhardt had one opportunity to get to Labonte, and Labonte was sent loose off of the final corner. Labonte had one option, stay in the throttle, and that decision gave him the win and a torn-up race car.

1999: Terry Labonte vs Dale Earnhardt Again

Dale Earnhardt once again found himself behind Terry Labonte on the final lap, but, this time, Earnhardt was not going to finish second. Earnhardt spun Labonte out in turn two to get the win. The fans were not favoring “The Intimidator” that night as a chorus of boos came down as Earnhardt celebrated in victory lane.

2002: Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace Bump and Run

Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace were both in the midst of long losing streaks at Bristol in 2002. Gordon caught Wallace in the final laps, and Gordon had one option. The iconic Bristol “bump and run” came back as Gordon bumped Wallace out of the way for the win.

2012: Tony Stewart vs Matt Kenseth

In 2012, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were battling for the lead late in the Night Race at Bristol. The two came together and spun out, and Stewart was done for the night. Unhappy with Kenseth, Stewart unleashed arguably the greatest helmet toss in NASCAR history.

2021: Chase Elliott vs Kevin Harvick

Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick were battling for the lead in the Night Race at Bristol in 2021, but, tempers flared. Harvick was unhappy with how Elliott raced him when Elliott was a lap down and Harvick battled Kyle Larson for the win. The most recent tempers boiling moment in the history of Bristol.

Should it be a Crown Jewel?

With all of these incredible moments and the fun history of the event, is it worth placing this race amongst one of the “Crown Jewels” in the sport of NASCAR? Well, this is not the “Original Night Race”, the purse is not as high as other “Crown Jewels”, and Bristol is far from NASCAR’s original short track. If it were to be considered, it would be on the merits of fan popularity and the excitement of the race.

Sure it does not fit all of the categories that a typical “Crown Jewel” like the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Coca-Cola 600 would, but the fan excitement for the Bristol Night Race is about as high as these other races. There is definitely an argument to be made for this race being considered a “Crown Jewel”, especially considering that NASCAR is currently missing that fourth event that historically has been a part of that group.

The Brickyard 400 may return next year, but will it garner the attendance to keep it in that category? The Chicago Street Race could very well take over that slot as NASCAR’s original Street Race, but will it have the staying power? The Bristol Night Race beats these two races in both of those categories.

It may never be considered in this category, but, it has the potential to. Regardless, the Bristol Night Race is incredible for what it is, one of the most exciting races of the season.

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