The 2014 season in NASCAR thus far has surrounded the number three.
At the beginning of the season, the No. 3 machine returned to the track with Austin Dillon behind the wheel. After a dominant weekend from Jeff Gordon in Michigan, he's now the fourth driver with three victories.
Now, with just three races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, a trio of drivers trail Greg Biffle for the final spot by 24 points or less. Needless to say, the final three races will be crucial for NASCAR's postseason.
Of those drivers hoping to earn a victory to secure a berth, both rookies Kyle Larson and Dillon are now on the outside looking in. With Clint Bowyer and Biffle on the bubble, a victory would make things much simpler moving forward.
Before the Irwin Tools Night Race gets underway, here's a look at the schedule, latest team news and drivers to watch for the huge event.
Irwin Tools Night Race Information
Site: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee
Date: Saturday, Aug. 23
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Latest Team News
When it comes to NASCAR news right now, the starting point has to be Carl Edwards.
Edwards, who has the only two victories for Roush Fenway Racing this season, will no longer be with the team. As Jeff Gluck of USA Today reported on Tuesday, Edwards will indeed join Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2015 season:
Carl Edwards (Cup) and Daniel Suarez (Nationwide) join Joe Gibbs Racing with sponsor Arris (telecommunications company). #NASCAR— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) August 19, 2014
Rumors were flying for months about the two sides coming together, but now it's official. With Edwards putting together another strong season, he heads to a team full of talented drivers rather than being the top dog.
Along with switching over to the No. 19, according to USA Today, Edwards will also join a team with plenty of championship potential. All four drivers set to drive for JGR in 2015 are currently on the Chase Grid and in contention.
Despite knowing he'll be joining the team next season, Edwards won't take it easy on JGR, per Alan Cavanna of NASCAR.com:
"We're competitors for the rest of this season. I'm going to try and make it as tough as I can on you guys," Edwards says— Alan Cavanna (@CopaCavanna) August 19, 2014
Sure, there is other news in NASCAR, but Edwards' decision is one fans have been waiting on during silly season. With all four future drivers on the radar for a points championship this season, next year should be a dominant year for the Gibbs team.
Drivers to Watch
Speaking of Edwards, he comes into Bristol as the defending winner from the March race. While the night race is a completely different beast, Edwards clearly has plenty of confidence lately.
How sure was Edwards of his chances coming away from Bristol? He even spoke about winning a championship after the March victory, per Seth Livingstone of NASCAR.com:
I can't believe we turned this around. We were terrible on Saturday. Jimmy told me (our crew) worked until 3 a.m. on simulation stuff. We'd been struggling lately, so for us to come out here and run so well with the number of Fords out of our shop, that was big.
(Now) we're in the Chase and we're going to go out and win this championship.
Months later, Edwards is still in contention to live up to those words. With a sweep at Bristol, he'd also become the fifth driver with three victories and potentially overtake Jimmie Johnson for fourth on the Chase Grid.
After a weight was lifted off his shoulders with the announcement made on Tuesday, look for a relaxed Edwards behind the wheel. If he can win at Bristol and compete for a championship, Edwards might just leave Jack Roush with a great parting gift on his way out.
As for current JGR drivers, Matt Kenseth holds the best chance for a checkered flag at the short track.
Kenseth was off to a blistering pace in the March race before falling behind and finishing 13th. After relinquishing the lead to Edwards, Kenseth was unable to catch back up to his future teammate.
But with 165 laps led in the last race and a win in the 2013 August event, Kenseth has the look of a favorite in the field. While he hasn't secured a spot in the Chase, the JGR account notes why he has an advantage over bubble contenders:
Keep in mind, Kenseth’s biggest competition for making it into the Chase are the 31, 42, 15, 16, & 5. The 20 still has a points cushion.— Boris for JGR (@JoeGibbsRacing) August 17, 2014
After falling short of finishing inside the top 10 back in March, the results look promising for Kenseth. He has three wins, 11 top fives and 18 top 10s for a 102.7 driver rating, which is behind only Larson's lone start on the track.
As Kenseth looks to win a championship this season with JGR, he can take a huge jump on the Chase Grid with a victory. On Sunday, he'll likely get that elusive checkered flag in the night race.
Who will win at Bristol?
Outside of the tandem of future teammates looking for a win, Jeff Gordon is one of the most dominant drivers at Bristol. He also just so happens to be at the top of the points and Chase Grid heading into the event.
Gordon has five wins, 16 top fives and 24 top-10 finishes at Bristol with an average finish of 12.2. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson also have victories at the short track, but Gordon is clearly the man to beat after his third win at Michigan.
While young guns like Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.—both of whom finished in the top 10 in March—will look to earn their first win, Gordon has the experience to get the job done.
If Gordon can collect yet another checkered flag, he would stand alone in the sport with four wins this season. Regardless of where he finishes, expect him to be a factor near the top of the leaderboard throughout the night.
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