Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Bristol – Food City 500
Get ready for some good old fashioned beating and banging on Sunday afternoon because the Sprint Cup Series is heading to Bristol! Just as a heads up, Brian Vickers is in the #55 Toyota this weekend, so nobody’s fantasy rosters are safe. Just kidding–I expect “The Sheriff” to be on best behavior in all of his races this season. Nicknamed “The Bullring,” Bristol Motor Speedway is 0.533-mile race track in Tennessee that is always a fan favorite and a producer of some of the most exciting races. Those starting from mid-pack to the rear of the field are always susceptible to going down a lap (or more) early in the races at this track.
During The Last Race At Bristol…Brad Keselowski–in the midst of this hot streak–grabbed the victory, which was his third (and ultimately final) of the 2011 season. He led 89 of the 500 laps ran. Martin Truex, Jr. finished 2nd–a career-best for him at the track–with Jeff Gordon ending up 3rd. He led the most laps that night with 206. Gordon’s Hendrick team mate, Jimmie Johnson, finished 4th, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 5 after starting 6th. Keselowski and Matt Kenseth (who ended up 6th after leading 110 laps) were accused of taking advantage of the timing lines on pit road after the race, although I believe it was perfectly legal.
Practice Schedule…Very similar to the schedule last week in Las Vegas: practice on Friday at noon followed by qualifying at 3:30. On Saturday, a second practice session will be held, starting at 9:30 am, and then Happy Hour will take place at noon. The Food City 500 should start around 1:15 pm on Sunday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Food City 500:
1. Kyle Busch – I’m not ready to hand him the checkered flag yet, but there really is no reason why Rowdy Busch shouldn’t be on the top of everyone’s boards going into this race weekend. Fourteen starts, five wins, 1,374 laps led, and an average finish of 9.1. And that’s just in the Sprint Cup Series… More impressive? Not a single DNF.
2. Tony Stewart – “Smoke” has really struggled lately at Bristol, as in five finishes of 17th or worse in his last six starts. So why would I have him ranked 2nd going into the race this weekend, other than the fact that he’s the most recent winner? One person: Steve Addington. In the two years with Kurt Busch, those two compiled three top 10s in four starts at Bristol, and he was Kyle Busch’s crew chief in 2009 when Rowdy led 415 of the 500 laps in the August race despite finishing 2nd. Smoke won at Bristol in 2001 and has amassed eight top 10s in twenty-six starts at the track. I full expect that to be at least nine of twenty-seven after Sunday.
3. Matt Kenseth – He’s known for his flat track expertise, but Matt Kenseth is a very good racer at Bristol. In twenty-four starts in Thunder Valley, the 2012 Daytona 500 champ has collected two wins while amassing sixteen top 10s. He’s only finished outside of the top 20 four times at this track, which is extremely impressive. Matt is on a five-event streak of top 10s at Bristol and has finished there in seven of the last eight as well. His average finish of 12.0 is fifth-best in the series at this track, and Kenseth has also led the fifth-most laps (852) of anyone in the series here.
4. Greg Biffle – It’s hard to go against a driver this hot, especially when the next stop is a track that he has found success at in the past. Biffle finished 31st here last fall, but before that he went on a streak of four straight top 10s at this track, with two finishes of 4th and two finishes of 8th between 2009 and 2011. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) The Biff has the fourth-best average finish at this track (11.8) despite never visiting victory lane. However, eleven of Biffle’s eighteen starts here have ended with top 10 finishes, and he has ended up outside of the top 20 just three times. The Roush-Fenway camp has been the best organization at Bristol over the last two years.
5. Jimmie Johnson – Chad Knaus will be on top of the pit box this weekend, and I fully expect this team to continue their “dig out of the hole” run this weekend. “Five Time” won this race in 2010 and he has finished 8th or better in five of his last six starts at this track. Johnson has made twenty starts at Bristol and over half of them have ended in top 10 finishes for him. Over the last two years, Jimmie has averaged the best driver rating of anyone in the series in Thunder Valley (119.6) and has led 499 laps. In the last six, Johnson has led at least 76 laps in every single event. I see no reason to not pick the #48 this weekend.
6. Carl Edwards – I still don’t like how this team is running despite the 5th-place finish posted by Cousin Carl last week in Sin City. He may be able to turn that around this weekend, though. Edwards started his Bristol career off with some struggles (33rd, 26th, and 24th-place finishes in his first three starts), but in the twelve races since then, Carl hasn’t finished worse than 16th, and seven of those twelve races ended with him in the top 10, including two victories (in the fall races of 2007 and 2008). Edwards’ average driver rating of 104.2 over the last two years at Bristol is fourth-best in the series.
7. Ryan Newman – His owner may have had a few speed bumps at this track over the last few years, but the same cannot be said for “The Rocketman”: he is the most recent pole winner at this track and hasn’t finished worse than 16th here since early 2008. Newman has never visited victory lane here, but he has finished inside the top 10 in 60% of his starts in Thunder Valley. His average driver rating of 96.8 if seventh-best in the series at this track over the last two seasons. Newman is a lot better than his average finish here (16.7).
8. Kevin Harvick – One of the most surprising things thus far in the 2012 season is how well Kevin Harvick has qualified. Hopefully that continues this weekend because it can be hard to pass at Bristol, although it’s not impossible. In fact, four of Harvick’s twelve top 10s at this track have came when he started the race outside of the top 20. He owns one victory here (which came back in 2005), and although Harvick has struggled here recently, I like how this team is running, and it’s not like he hasn’t been good at this track (seventh-best average finish–12.5–of anyone in the series). Only six of Kevin’s twenty-two starts in Thunder Valley have ended with him outside of the top 20, and twelve have ended with him inside the top 10.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - In case you missed ESPN’s breaking news (click here) that was more important than Tony Stewart winning the race or Greg Biffle’s awesome start, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is off to the best start in his career. NASCAR’s most popular driver has the third-best average finish (11.7) in the series at Bristol and he has finished in the top 20 in twenty-one of his twenty-four starts at this short track. Junior hasn’t grabbed a top ten here since early 2010, but he has finished there in exactly half of his races in Thunder Valley. Junior ranks 7th in the amount of laps led (with 743) of all active drivers at Bristol. He was better when he drove for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., but Junior should still be a solid pick this weekend, continuing his “awesome” start.
10. Marcos Ambrose - Marcos has never led a lap at The Bullring, but I still consider him a good driver here, just like I do at most tracks when it can help to conserve your brakes. His first start at Bristol netted Marcos a top 10 finish, and he followed that up with a 3rd-place run in the fall race that year. He struggled in 2010, but Ambrose bounced back last season with finishes of 15th and 10th in the two Bristol events. In six starts, he has just one finish outside of the top 20 at this track.
11. Brad Keselowski – I’m just hoping that this team has the fuel issue figured out from last week. As I said before, Bad Brad is the most recent winner at this track, and he’s actually been pretty consistent here throughout his career. Keselowski has made four career starts in Thunder Valley and has finished inside the top 20 in all of them. He has completed all but one lap in those four races and has led a total of 115 laps. My sleeper pick for the week, by the way, is BK’s teammate, A.J. Allmendinger. Penske has been the third-best organization at Bristol over the last two years.
12. Jeff Gordon – I’m still waiting for a breakout performance from this team in 2012. However, I don’t think that’s going to happen this weekend. Jeff has five wins at Bristol, but the most recent of those came in 2002. Fact of the matter is, Gordon has just one top 10 finish in the last five events in Thunder Valley and has led more than 6 laps just once in all of the races here since 2006. Still, Gordon had a great car here last fall, leading 206 laps, so this weekend could be the great performance this team needs, although I wouldn’t bank on it. Gordon’s average finish of 11.5 at Bristol is second-best in the series behind Kyle Busch.
13. Denny Hamlin – Denny has really struggled at Bristol recently (three finishes of 19th or worse in the last four events) but that doesn’t make me look past the fact that half of his starts here have ended with the #11 in the top 10, including a streak of four straight finishes of 6th or better in 2008 and 2009. Denny finished 7th in the fall race here last year despite having just the 12th-best driver rating in that race. If he looks just decent (or worse) in practice this week, I’d stay away from Hamlin this week. But if he looks fast, I wouldn’t let his recent struggles here keep you from starting him on Sunday.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. - Did you know that over the last five Sprint Cup Series races (yes, I’m going back to last season) that Martin Truex, Jr. has the sixth-best average finish of anyone with 11.8? I expected more out of him last week in Las Vegas but, as I always say, you have to forget quickly in fantasy racing when someone disappoints. Truex will be entering Bristol this weekend to prove that his 2nd-place run here last fall wasn’t a fluke. Although I don’t see him repeating that performance, I’m still expecting a solid run out of the #56 this weekend. Martin hasn’t finished worse than 17th in the last four races at The Bullring and had led a total of 68 laps in the last two races here. His average finish of 20.7 here may scare you off but Truex has finished 99.9% of the laps ran here in the last three years (2,997 of 3,000).
15. Jamie McMurray – After last week’s solid run in Sin City, I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come from Jamie Mac and the #1 team. He’s had his fair share of struggles in Thunder Valley (eight finishes outside the top 20 in eighteen starts), but lately McMurray has found some success: in the four races here since joining Earnhardt-Ganassi, he has amassed three top 10s and a worst finish of 21st. Jamie has had a driver rating of over 100.0 in three of those four as well. It’s risky, but I like to think of Bristol as a place to take some risk. If he looks good in practice and likes his car again this week, I’d take a shot with McMurray.
Those To Avoid Entering The Food City 500:
Clint Bowyer – He owns three top 5s in twelve starts in Thunder Valley, but that doesn’t hide the fact that six of those starts have ended in finishes outside of the top 20 for Bowyer. Michael Waltrip Racing as whole is majorly hit-or-miss at Bristol (with most the races being “miss”) and like I’ve said before, I want consistently good races out of this team before I consider Clint at tracks other than the ones he’s good at. His career average finish here is 18.9.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne is a wrecking machine lately and I want nothing to do with that going into a track where you have to survive for 500 laps. His stats here of late have been good (three straight finishes of 11th or better) but he has just six top 10s in sixteen career starts at The Bullring and had led in only one race. Kahne has an average finish of 18.7 in his career at Bristol while completing just 86.3% of the laps.
Brian Vickers – He may be a good “start saver” pick in the Yahoo! game but I’m seeing no value anywhere else for this guy. Another season concluded in 2011 with Brian Vickers still not notching a top 10 at Bristol. Fourteen starts here, zero top 10s, and an average finish of 24.6. Michael Waltrip Racing has been just the eighth-best organization at this race track in the last two years.