Jeff Wolfe · Wednesday March 13, 2013
NASCAR heads to one of its marquee tracks this Sunday, the half-mile oval at Bristol Motor Speedway for race number four of 36. Much like Daytona’s restrictor plate circus, just what happens in the bullring can be unpredictable. While that’s great for pure, entertainment purposes it’s a downright panic attack when you’re trying to project your fantasy lineup.
How many times has a driver seemed destined for a top 10, or even a top 5 result, in Thunder Valley only to get bumped into the wall during the final few laps and relegated to a 20 or 30-something finish? One fact that is different: at places like Bristol compared to the plate tracks, qualifying really does matter. If you start at the back of the pack there, you’re already about a half lap behind. And since the jury is definitely still out on how well the new Gen 6 cars can pass in traffic, climbing out of a deep hole early could be difficult for even the sport’s short track aces.
So drivers that qualify well, in 2013 and those that tend to miss the wrecks will leave you off to a solid start. But even then, know that nothing is fool-proof; last March, an early crash erased good days for Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and several other top stars. Still, here we go, trying to predict the unpredictable…
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Of the best drivers out there this week, the first place to look is towards the ones who finished atop the standings last year. Brad Keselowski has been steady in these first three races, landing second in points behind Jimmie Johnson. But despite scoring top-5 finishes in each, the only driver to have done so Keselowski has expressed his frustration at not scoring a victory. The good news is Bristol’s coming at the right time; he has won two of the last four races there. Roger Penske’s No. 2 car, in particular has dominated this track, transitioning seamlessly from Rusty Wallace, to Kurt Busch, to Keselowski in Victory Lane. Finally, the reigning champ’s average starting spot is 9.5, during the last four races at Thunder Valley and that’s why he’s my pick this week: those who start up front should stay there.
Another guy on the “A” list to look at is Denny Hamlin. Sure, he’s not happy with the Gen-6 car yet, but he’s also got a recent win at Bristol. And with last week’s criticism, putting him in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons wouldn’t Victory Lane make everything better at the No. 11 car?
One other top driver you can’t forget about at Bristol is Tony Stewart. Sure, he has only one win there, but he’s led 1,355 laps at the track and needs to improve after stumbling out of the blocks in 2013. Speaking of veterans, facing slumping starts there may be no better place for Jeff Gordon to break out than Bristol. Gordon has five career wins there and has led 2,637 laps, easily the most among active drivers.
Finally, if you’re into streaks, there’s always last week’s winner in Matt Kenseth. He’s led 922 laps at Bristol with two wins and an average finish of 12.08 in 26 races.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADERS
This second group is filled with a Busch-ell of possibilities.
Easily at the top of this list is Kyle Busch especially if you are in a race limit league. He has five wins in 16 career races at Bristol and has 1,374 laps led. What’s most impressive about those statistics is he has done so with an average start of 19.3. Armed with the right balance of patience and aggressiveness, he’s young enough where endurance is not an issue and may be one of the few that can work through traffic after starting mid-pack or worse.
Then, there’s Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch, no slouch at the bullrings himself. Owning five wins at Bristol, while he’s not in a top-tier ride anymore, driving the No. 78 for Furniture Row he’s had enough success to be considered. He’s led 840 laps in his 24 races there.
If you’re looking for a sleeper from this group, plus someone who’s not available to select every week, then you have to look at Brian Vickers. He seemed to find his niche there last year and will be in the No. 55 on Sunday. Mark Martin drove this car in the first three events and the No. 55 is a strong sixth in owner points.
One last look from the middle-tier candidates also presents us with Martin Truex, Jr. In the last four races at Bristol, he’s had two top-5 results and has an average finish of 8.75. Truex has also led 112 laps in those events.
As usual, this group is full of intriguing, seemingly low-priority options that can shine. When it comes to these short track races, one of the priorities is to try and find a driver who can stay on the lead lap for a big chunk of the event, dodging bullets while earning a good finish through attrition.
The full-season choices here, leading this category at the moment are Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Danica Patrick. They are each competing for Rookie of the Year honors as well as Bristol bragging rights.
Only one of them, though will be a solid pick for Sunday. After the restrictor plate race at Daytona, Patrick hasn’t shown the ability, the car, or whatever you want to call it to compete inside the top 10 on a weekly basis. That makes her a tough pick at Bristol. In her lone start there last year, she finished 29th, albeit after contact with Regan Smith ended a fairly decent run.
On the contrary, this race might be a good place to use Stenhouse, Jr. He ran in the top 10 at times at Las Vegas despite bouncing off the Turn Two wall, and he seems to be learning the more powerful Cup cars quickly.
One possible pick, comes from a driver who won’t be a regular on the circuit but will be driving the No. 51 at Bristol in A.J. Allmendinger. In his last three races there, he has an average finish of 20th and has led 54 laps. Most would probably take a 20th-place finish out of their final spot at Bristol, and it’s possible the No. 51 can do better. After all, this single-car effort is sitting seventh in owner points this season. So even though James Finch has limited funding, his team has produced so far in 2013.
THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR
The top performer of the week in Frontstretch’s two fantasy leagues was the team JJs #14 with 334 points. The selections of Keselowski in third, Kyle Busch in fourth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.in seventh and Stenhouse in 18th was two points better than the NASCAR Forever team entry.
The overall point leader for this segment is Team Hurtubise with 657 points, ahead of the 6_99RFR entry, which has 647. Want to see which Frontstretch player’s ahead? Click here to find out and join in the fun of our growing fantasy league.
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