Johnson City Press: BMS Night Race to become playoff race in 2020
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BMS Night Race to become playoff race in 2020

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Mar 26, 2019 at 10:48 PM

BRISTOL — The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will be part of the NASCAR playoffs starting in 2020.

NASCAR unveiled a revamped 2020 Cup Series schedule on Tuesday and the Bristol Night Race will move from its traditional August date to September 19. It will be the final race in the first round of the playoffs behind Darlington and Richmond as the field is whittled from 16 drivers to 12.

“If NASCAR fans thought they’ve seen tempers flare and sparks fly under the lights at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, just wait until they experience a real pressure-packed NASCAR playoff elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway,” Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell said. “We’re thankful to the fans that voiced their opinions and rooted for more short-track racing in the playoffs, and appreciative of NASCAR collaborating with its many stakeholders to deliver a schedule with many positive adjustments.”

It is part of a major shake-up in the schedule although the Food City 500 will remain on the same weekend, scheduled for April 5. Caldwell said the changes with the Night Race came as part of a major collaboration within the sport and that they’ve been discussed for over a year.

“You can see looking at this that NASCAR is clearly looking at the fans and the things they want,” Caldwell said. “Other things make sense from a scheduling standpoint and we obviously love being a part of the playoffs.”

Other notable changes include Las Vegas now the second race on the schedule and the Brickyard 400 moving to July 5, a weekend typically reserved for the Daytona 400-mile race, which now moves to Saturday, Aug. 29 as the final race of the regular season. Pocono Raceway will host both its 400-mile races as part of a doubleheader weekend on June 27-28.

The season-ending race in November has been moved from Homestead-Miami Speedway to Phoenix’s ISM Raceway. The Homestead race will now be held March 22. Martinsville’s fall race will be the next-to-last race of the season on Nov. 1.

“I love what they’ve done. After kicking the season off at Daytona, it’s great to follow up at Vegas and all that city can bring to the table,” Caldwell said. “It’s great for our sport and that West Coast swing makes sense. I think Daytona starting and ending the regular season makes a lot of sense. You’re kicking off the playoffs at Darlington, Richmond and Bristol. If that doesn’t get the attention of the sport, I don’t know if anything will. That has the makings of amazing racing just from that lineup.”

HAPPY TO MISS CLASS

Tennessee High student Jayce Ketron was presented a check totaling $2,088 by NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson for the Dale Jr. Scholarship offered by Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday morning. It’s something Ketron plans to put to good use, hoping to one day, after training, work in an automotive body shop and eventually open his own shop.

Gragson, who will drive the No. 9 JR Motorsports Camaro in the upcoming Alsco 300 on Saturday, April 6, talked about the honor of representing his car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and presenting the check to Ketron.

“It’s humbling to be able to do this,” said Gragson, who at 20 is just a couple years older than Ketron. “To give Jayce an opportunity he needs for the path he wants to pursue. For the Dale Jr. Scholarship, it’s special because I needed someone to take a shot with me and that’s what JR Motorsports did.”

It was exciting for Ketron as the honor was announced at the school’s Frank Winston Auditorium in front of his peers. In addition, the honorary pace Chevrolet Camaro car — with a blue and yellow No. 2 paint scheme to remember the first career win by Dale Earnhardt Sr. 40 years ago — was parked in front of the school.

“I can’t believe it. It’s absolutely insane to have Noah present that to me.,” Ketron said. “I’m very excited to have the scholarship and look forward to pursuing a career in the automotive industry.”

PRESSURE TO PERFORM

The No. 9 team won last season’s NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with Tyler Reddick behind the steering wheel. Gragson, a rookie currently eighth in the point standings, has his own goals in mind.

“It’s a lot of pressure, big shoes to fill, but I’ve been trying not to measure myself off somebody else’s ruler,” Gragson said. “I just want to learn as much as I can. My goal this year is to become a better person, a better race car driver and hopefully with my preparation and learning I can be standing in victory lane at the end of the season. It’s going to take a lot of work, even though I have a great group around me to compete for race wins.”

LOCAL RACES SCHEDULED

Kingsport Speedway, which drew a good crowd for its season opener, has another day of racing scheduled for Saturday. Gates open at 1 p.m. with racing scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. An open practice is scheduled for Friday from 3-8 p.m.

Clay Valley Speedway in Coeburn, Va., which also had a solid crowd for its grand opening, has its regular racing program scheduled for Saturday. Gates open at 9 a.m. with a noon drivers meeting and racing to start at 3 p.m.

TWO-WHEEL ACTION

Tyler Orfield of Johnson City swept motos to win the VetMX Warrior Class at last weekend’s Thor Mega Series opener at Muddy Creek Raceway. Other local winners included three Kingsport riders — Brandon Gilliam (Unlimited C/D), Kevin Walker (Senior 45+) and Carson Eads (Mini Sr. 2). Jane Gammon of Bluff City won two classes and Tate Ragan of Johnson City (51cc stock Multi Speed).

Haden Gang of Piney Flats (250C) and Eads (Super Mini 2) posted runner-up finishes.

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