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, 1/2-mile, 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 #2 clocked the fastest overall lap of the night. The Watertown, CT 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 were plenty of talks centered around the change in banking this year. Gravel thought the difference wasn’t too evident 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.”

21 years ago, Donny Schatz was a winner on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. [Trent Gower]

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 #15. The 10-time Series champion finished runner-up at the track last year and won the Series’ third-ever appearance in Bristol back in 2001.

As the track slicked off and widened to the fence, Bloomington, IN’s Kraig Kinser 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 #49 maxed out with an eighth-place finish at the 1/2-mile last year, and the current championship leader is bound and determined to improve that mark.

Other notables names towards 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 & Logan Schuchart, the Roth Motorsports pairing of James McFadden & Kerry Madsen, CJB’s rookie star Spencer Bayston, and NOS Energy Drink pilot Sheldon Haudenschild.

Reigning champion Brad Sweet is looking to top his Bristol best of 8th. [Trent Gower]

The aura of Bristol Motor Speedway was not taken lightly as the World of Outlaws returned to the venue for the first time in a year.

“It’s one of a kind,” Gravel spoke on the atmosphere. “It’s almost in the middle of the nowhere, but then you turn the corner, and over the hill is this massive colosseum, You grow up watching the YouTube videos, and now we’re here ourselves filling the stands. It’s incredible.”

The Bristol Bash really gets going tomorrow, Friday, April 29, with the first of two doubleheaders featuring the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series. Both divisions will host full programs of Qualifying, Heat Races, Dash, and $25,000-to-win Features at the 1/2-mile.

Fans in the area can BUY TICKETS HERE. Fans unable to attend can watch every lap LIVE on DIRTVision.

1. 2-David Gravel, 13.624; 2. 49-Brad Sweet, 13.739; 3. 8-Aaron Reutzel, 13.777; 4. 15-Donny Schatz, 13.782; 5. 83JR-Kerry Madsen 13.787; 5. 1a-Jacob Allen, 13.788; 6. 3z-Brock Zearfoss, 13.817; 7. 11k-Kraig Kinser, 13.818; 8. 5-Spencer Bayston, 13.822; 9. 1s-Logan Schuchart, 13.835; 10. 57-Kyle Larson, 13.843.