How NASCAR Cars Race The Bass Pro Shops Night Race Faster Than Any Other Half-Mile

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most distinct events of the NASCAR season. The Tennessee Speedway’s steeply banked corners make it the fastest half-mile track in the world. As a result, cars must pack together, and drivers’ tempers run high. The added challenge of driving at night makes this race the wildcard of the NASCAR season. Since 2020, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race has been one of the sixteen “playoffs” races at the season’s end.

What is the Bass Pros Shops NRA Night Race?

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - AUGUST 17: A general view of the action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 17, 2019 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This 500 lap NASCAR Cup Series stock car race is hosted by the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Bass Pro Shops and the National Rifle Association sponsor the event. It is held in mid-September as it is one of the sixteen NASCAR playoffs races.

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race lasts for 500 laps of the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. The race is 266 miles long. In 2021, the race will begin at 7:30 PM eastern time. NBCSN will broadcast the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race is not the only major NASCAR race hosted by the Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol Motor Speedway hosts the Food City Dirt Race, previously called the Food City 500, in the spring. For many years, the Food City 500 ran on the concrete surface of the Bristol Motor Speedway. But beginning in 2021, NASCAR covered the track surface in dirt. The Bass Pro Shops Night Race will continue to run on the traditional concrete surface and will reach higher speeds.

Why is the Bristol Motor Speedway so fast?

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The Bristol Motor Speedway is a very challenging track to race. This 1/2-mile oval features highly banked corners. For decades the track advertised that its corners banked at 36 degrees. This made it the most steeply banked track in NASCAR. However, after recent resurfacing, Bristol Motor Speedways reduced the angle of its corner bank to 24-30 degrees.

The high angle of the track’s banked corners allows stock cars to drive faster than on most 1/2-mile tracks. For this reason, the Speedway bills itself as the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” While the NASCAR Cup cars can reach higher speeds on longer tracks, they drive–and corner–on the Bristol Motor Speedway faster than on most half-mile tracks.

With a pack of 40 NASCAR stock cars, the slowest qualifying drivers start half a lap behind. It does not take long for the race leaders to catch up with any lagging cars. 

Darrell Waltrip said of Bristol, “You’re always being pursued, or you’re always pursuing…In the process, you get annoyed. You get aggravated…I’ve seen drivers drive left-handed to shake their right fist all night long.”

As the cars clump together on the short track, it isn’t easy to pass. Often drivers have to resort to bumping one another and then passing. Fans call this maneuver the bump-and-run. Unfortunately, drivers sometimes accidentally spin out the car in front of them while attempting a bump-and-run.

Richard Petty said, “It’s kinda hard to run Bristol without you running into somebody or somebody running into you.” So it is no surprise that Bristol Motor Speedway is notorious for sparking driver grudges and even fights.

The high stadium seating of the speedway makes it one of the largest sporting venues in the world. The capacity of the Bristol Motor Speedway is 162,000. The vocal audience makes its feelings known during the night race, sometimes booing winners who spun other racers off the track.

The history of the Bristol Motor Speedway Night Race

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The first NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway was on July 30th, 1961. From 1978 through 2019, the Bristol Motor Speedway held the night race on a Saturday night in August. Sponsors included Sharpie and Irwin Tools. Bass Pro shops has sponsored the race since 2016.

There have been many notable Bristol Motor Speedway Night Races in NASCAR history. In 1995, officials black-flagged Bobby Hamilton for repeated skirmishes with Brett Bodine and Dale Earnhardt spun out Terry Labonte. 2002 was Jeff Gordon‘s only night race win after doing a bump-and-run on Rusy Wallace in the final laps. In the same race, Earnhardt wrecked Ward Burton, and Burton threw his brake pads at Earnhardt. In 2003, a confrontation with winner Kurt Busch cost Jimmy Spencer a week’s suspension. Finally, in 2012, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart fought for the lead, and an angry Stewart threw his helmet at Kenseth’s car.

In 2010 and again in 2017, Kyle Busch swept all three Bristol events in one weekend: the Camping World Truck race on Wednesday, the Nationwide on Friday, and the Saturday Night Race. In 2010, he won the Saturday Night Race despite his tire going down during the final lap.

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