David Gravel (Trent Gower photo)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — The long-anticipated Bristol Bash finally began on Thursday night as the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series both returned to The Last Great Colosseum.
After a year away from the high-banked track, drivers and teams took advantage of four practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway before chasing a pair of $25,000-to-win features and two gladiator swords on Friday and Saturday in Thunder Valley.
Much like last year during their Bristol sweep, David Gravel and Big Game Motorsports were the talk of the town in Tennessee on Thursday. With Gravel at the wheel and Cody Jacobs on the wrenches, the No. 2 clocked the fastest overall lap of the night. The Watertown, Conn., native timed in at 13.624 seconds around the 0.533-mile oval, averaging 138.990 mph in the first session.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on Qualifying here, so getting on the front row of the Heat Race and into the Dash will be crucial,” Gravel noted. “I know there isn’t a ton of cars, but these are 20 of the best cars in the entire country here and it’s gonna be tough to do what we did last year.”
Laying dirt on top of the concrete surface at Bristol for the second year now, there was plenty of talks centered around the change in banking this year. Gravel thought the difference wasn’t too obvious from the cockpit but does expect an exciting show with how the track races from top-to-bottom.
“I think it feels somewhat similar to the sensation I had last year,” Gravel added. “You can still roll the bottom real right to the berm, but it was getting slick and more tricky to hit that. I think it should promote some good racing when it gets wider and tougher to manage.”
All four practice sessions on Thursday were paced by four different drivers, led by Gravel’s 13.624, which was less than three-tenths off Sam Hafertepe Jr.’s track record at 13.326.
Topping the second session was Donny Schatz at 13.782 seconds (137.396 mph) aboard the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, Ford Performance, Carquest No. 15. The 10-time series champion finished runner-up at the track last year and won the series’ third appearance in Bristol back in 2001.
As the track slicked off and widened to the fence, Kraig led the third session with a lap of 14.041 seconds (134.862 mph). A win at the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the very few things the legendary Kinser family has not attained, but Steve’s boy has two chances to get that done this weekend.
In the fourth and final session, three-time and defending World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet went to the top of the charts at 14.157 seconds (133.757 mph). The Kasey Kahne Racing, NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 maxed out with an eighth-place finish last year, and the current championship leader is bound and determined to improve that mark.
Other notables names toward the top in times included NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson (pulling double duty with late models), last year’s runner-up Aaron Reutzel, four-time winner this season Carson Macedo, Shark Racing’s duo of Jacob Allen and Logan Schuchart , the Roth Motorsports pairing of James McFadden and Kerry Madsen, CJB’s rookie star Spencer Bayston and NOS Energy Drink pilot Sheldon Haudenschild.