BRISTOL — Earlier this week, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson were listed as co-favorites to win tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
That changed late Friday afternoon.
Busch, who broke the track’s all-time win record with his victory in the UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, had the fastest speed in final practice at 128.253 mph.
However, Busch spun twice on his qualifying effort and failed to complete a lap. If he is to win the race, he will have to come from the back of the field, starting in the 43rd position.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Busch listed as the favorite since he is a five-time Cup Series winner at Bristol. However, it was a little different for Johnson to be mentioned as a Bristol favorite.
Although he’s a five-time Sprint Cup Series champion, Johnson has just one win at the high-banked short track. He was runner-up to Denny Hamlin in last year’s night race, but also has five finishes of 30th or worse on the .533-mile oval.
He was second fastest in the first practice session, but could not show the same speed the rest of the day. He was 30th in the final practice session and 13th in qualifying.
Kasey Kahne, winner of the Food City 500 in March, was picked right behind Busch and Johnson. He was 11th fastest in practice and later qualified seventh.
Two-time Bristol night race winner Matt Kenseth and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski were listed alongside Kahne. Kenseth was among the fastest cars in the final practice and backed it up with a fifth-place qualifying effort. Keselowski, winner of two of the last four Bristol races, qualified 12th.
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was third in both practice sessions, but ended with a disappointing qualifying effort. He will start 32nd after being over three miles per hour off Hamlin’s speed.
The darkhorse pick has to be Kurt Busch, like Gordon and his younger brother a five-time Bristol winner. Busch was second fastest in the final practice and backed up with an outside pole run of 14.901 seconds (128.770 mph).
Despite being the defending race champion, Hamlin wasn’t listed among the original top picks. However, he worked himself back into the conversation with a pole-winning run of 14.878 seconds (128.969) in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Some of the others who could be contenders include Carl Edwards, third-fastest in qualifying, fourth-place starter Brian Vickers, and Joey Logano, winner of last week’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan.