Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday March 21, 2007
As if making predictions for Bristol wasn't hard enough already, the debut of the Car of Tomorrow makes this year’s edition the equivalent of a giant guessing game. For fantasy players that have been struggling a bit this year, Bristol is a good chance to take an early season gamble and see if those risks pay off. Even the most thought out, well-researched picks can wind up in the garage at Bristol in a car that looks ready for the scrap heap.
Still, new car or not, there are drivers that always perform well on short tracks and others currently riding a wave of momentum. Despite the uncertainty of this week's race, we've come up with a list of drivers we’re sure should be running up front at the end, as well as those who might see their day end early. Who are they?
Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:
Cami's Race Rewind:
In typical Bristol fashion, last year's race saw plenty of cautions (18), hot tempers ( Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth), and the infamous bump and run en route to the checkered flag. Once the smoke finally cleared, Kurt Busch pulled ahead, scoring his first win driving the No. 2 for Penske Racing. Busch’s fifth Birstol victory didn’t come without a little controversy, as he put the bumper to the tail of Kenseth's Ford in order to take the lead for good with five laps to go. Busch claimed it was just hard racing; Kenseth, on the other hand, cried foul. But that wasn't the only controversy that fateful Sunday. After his run-in with Busch, Kenseth got into the back bumper of Gordon in a little last lap bump and run; Gordon, who was running third at the time, spun out and dropped to 21st. Gordon didn't take too kindly to that; even though Kenseth admitted his mistake, Gordon fought back with a shove to his chest on pit road after the race. As far as the final results went, Kevin Harvick, Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Bobby Labonte rounded out the Top 5 finishers that day. Tony Stewart led the most laps with 245, but ended the day in 12th place after fading late.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
Bristol!!! It’s the equivalent of jet fighters in a gymnasium. This race can be more of a crapshoot than Talladega; it is very easy for a car to be caught up in someone else's mess, ruining their day through no fault of their own. Add the Car of Tomorrow into that unpredictable mix, and handicapping the race for the weekend is about as easy as passing someone on the outside at this one-groove racetrack. You'll need to look for the usual suspects to be able to handle all of the twists and vagaries of the Â½-mile concrete track in the Tennessee Mountains. The drivers who have finished consistently on short tracks in the past will run well again this weekend, possibly even better with the introduction of the new race car and all that it brings with it.
Crank â€˜Em up:
Matt Kenseth has one two of the last three races at Bristol, coming home third in the other. Quietly, he’s been building up a solid short track resume, acquiring nine Top 10 finishes in the last ten races contested at the bullring. Roush Racing was a bit slow to develop their Car of Tomorrow, but recent tests seem to indicate things are well under control. Kenseth has been on a roll to start the year, too, so look for that momentum to carry over to this weekend's race.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been one of the best, if not the best, drivers on short tracks over the last several years. He is also a previous Bristol winner, finishing no lower than 11th in the last seven races held at the track. D.E.I. has a package that works at the concrete half-mile; assuming they can translate it to the Car of Tomorrow, a solid-handling race car should put Junior running right up front once again.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Clint Bowyer has had a great start to his sophomore season, running decently in the first four races. He’s even led some laps, too. But this is Bristol we’re talking about now, and it can take a lot longer to both learn this place and how to get around it quickly and without incident. Since Bowyer finished 29th and 38th in his previous two races at the track, he doesn’t look to be gaining that knowledge anytime in the near future. Clearly, it looks like a good weekend to lay off of the Jack Daniels.
Ryan Newman is just rather lost these days. He finally won another pole last weekend, but the Penske organization as a whole just doesn't seem to really be doing very well, No. 12 team included front and center. Newman does have a couple of Top 10 finishes in the last two races at Bristol, but the previous two races before that produced finishes well back in the 30s. Newman probably needs to ride the pine this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
Ken Schrader is a racer's racer; he will run anything with a motor that someone will let him run in a circle. Drivers like that tend to excel on the short tracks in Cup, because most of the success at these tracks comes down to sheer driver ability. Schrader is case in point; he garnered a Top 10 finish for BAM Racing at Bristol a couple of years ago, and he is in a lot better equipment now than he was then. Look for the No. 21 to run consistently near the back of the Top 10 for most of the day, leaving Schrader to bring home a strong finish this weekend.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Jeff Gordon never forgets! Oh, wait…that's Jimmy Spencer. But you can bet that if Gordon finds himself behind Matt Kenseth at the end of Sunday's race, he'll remember the move Kenseth put on him to end his shot at a Top 5 finish last year. Gordon hasn't been a big fan of the Car of Tomorrow, but Tony Stewart wasn't a fan of Vegas, either, and looked how that worked out. The No. 24 team has been running strong all year, with three Top 10 finishes in the first three races, and Gordon’s poised to take over the point lead on Sunday with Mark Martin sitting out. CoT or not, Gordon is a five-time Bristol winner primed for a return trip back to Victory Lane.
Denny Hamlin has been slowly working his way back into the Top 10 in the standings following a mediocre start to the season at Daytona. Currently eighth, Hamlin heads to Bristol with the best average finish at the track of any active driver. Granted, he's only raced there twice, but an average of 10.0 is nothing to sneeze at. Throw into the mix the success the Fed Ex Team had at the CoT test here last month, and I foresee a good finish for the Virginia native this weekend.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
On the other hand, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate J.J. Yeley has not found the same success at Bristol. In the two races he ran here in 2006, Yeley only managed a 31st place finish. Granted, he has come a long way so far this season and isn't tearing up his equipment like he has in the past, but I still see him having a bit of difficulty here this weekend.
Martin Truex, Jr. seemed to have his hands full when the series tested the CoT at Bristol last month, managing a high of only 28th place during the three practice sessions held. While he is on a bit of a roll as of late, Bristol hasn't been a track that has treated him well so far in the Nextel Cup Series. In the two races he's run there, he's scored just one Top 20 finish; with the DEI cars struggling in testing, I'd hold off using Truex until another 1.5 mile track comes around.
Roll the Dice:
Defending race winner Kurt Busch has had an up and down start to the 2007 season, but he could easily turn that around this weekend. Busch has become the new King of the Short Tracks, with five wins at Bristol in 12 starts. With the unknown factor of the Car of Tomorrow, attitude and confidence will play a big part in Sunday's race, and Busch has it in spades. So far, he's been one of the few drivers with positive comments about the new car, lip service that could produce actual rewards should he snag win number six at Bristol this weekend.
Mike: So, I understand you picking Gordon for Bristol, that’s nice and safe, but Denny Hamlin? That is a bold prediction there, Fantasy Vixen.
Cami: Well… yes and no. He does have a good average finish at Bristol (10.0) and he was good in the CoT testing last month. It may be bold, but I need to shake things up a bit.
Mike: Well that is definitely shaking it up. He is looking more and more like the sophomore jinx might be starting to creep up on him.
Cami: : I don’t think so…he’s up to 8th in the standings and hasn’t had any real crappy finishes since Daytona. I think he’ll come out of Bristol with a solid run. But speaking of shaky… Dale, Jr. in trouble again? You think he’ll get his first Top 10 of the year at Bristol?
Mike: He is money on short tracks. And he’s been great at Bristol for awhile now. Nothing worse than 11th in the last seven races there, and 16th or better in the last 11.
Cami: He’s been getting better… that’s for sure. That’s ‘cause he started out so crappy he had nowhere to go but up. But I wonder if he has a handle on the new car. They didn’t seem to have it together in testing.
Mike: That’s true. Their test scares me a little, but the race is a whole different animal come Bristol. I think he’ll be up front by the end of the day. By the way, sorry to see you haven’t jumped on the J.J. Yeley bandwagon yet. He’s finally figured out how to finish races and it's really been paying off for him this year. I think you could actually see the No. 18 win a race.
Cami: I have in my other column (insert shameless plug here). I think you’re right, he could win this year. But I don’t think Bristol is going to be that place. Even though it’s hard to go by old numbers with the new car, he didn’t finish higher than 31st there last year.
Mike: True. Well, I also think your Roll the Dice pick will be a hero or zero again this time around. He can get around Bristol, but when he has trouble, he has BIG trouble.
Cami: I’m hoping hero in this case, even though part of me hates saying that. He’s one of the few drivers that hasn’t griped about the new car.
Mike: I picked him in my money league, so he’ll probably crash out early.
Cami: Geez, you don’t tell me those picks ahead of time!
Mike: Sorry. I’ll try and give you advanced warning.
Cami: : Speaking of heroes… neither one of us picked Jimmie Johnson.
Mike: I don’t feel it with Jimmie at Bristol. He’s had a couple of decent runs, but I don’t ever remember him really being in contention for the win. With the way they’re running, you never know, but I’ll wait for another 1.5 miler to come around.
Cami: Not if I snag him first.
Mike: We should have to flip a coin when Charlotte rolls around.
Cami: : Or just make a rule that neither of us can use him there. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all pans out.
Crank â€˜Em Up- 20.6
Sit â€˜Em Down- 15.3
Roll the Dice- 24.3
Crank â€˜Em Up- 15.1
Sit â€˜Em Down- 26.1
Roll the Dice- 24.3
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