After a marathon weekend at Michigan, it’s time for a sprint-like turnaround and a trip to everyone’s favorite bullring, Bristol Motor Speedway. Michigan had its share of surprises for fantasy teams, with drivers like Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte and Brian Vickers making appearances in the top 10. But not to be outdone, old reliables like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were there, too, continuing to cruise along towards the Chase – and hopefully helping the chances for a season-ending trophy of your own. But this weekend at Bristol, no pick is truly a “safe bet;” you can expect both anything and everything to happen. Just one nudge on the bumper and your team’s best driver could be spinning down the standings… taking your team with him. Still, there are certainly drivers you want to make sure to have in your arsenal, along with ones to avoid.
Which drivers should you equip your team to do battle with at the newly repaved Thunder Valley? Read this week’s Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans to find out.
Cami’s Race Rewind
It was a double, double affair at Bristol last year, when Kenseth made it two wins in a row and back-to-back fall Bristol triumphs with his victory in the Sharpie 500. Kenseth started the night in fourth place, and it was late in the race when he took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. – lap 399, to be exact – but once he got it, he cruised on to take the win with ease. Behind him, Kyle Busch finished second after coming back from an early tire problem. But perhaps the biggest comeback of the night belonged to Junior himself; the driver of the No. 8 Chevy moved up from 40th starting position to finish third. Scott Riggs and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five finishers. Further back, polesitter Kurt Busch had a rough night, making contact with Reed Sorenson, then earning a speeding penalty before a broken transmission ended his quest for the Bristol sweep and gave him a 37th-place finish. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton started on the outside of the front row and led a race high 263 laps before falling back to ninth.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Bristol is the biggest question mark for fantasy owners leading into the Chase. The track is so small and tight that it is extremely easy to get caught up in someone else’s problems, having your night ruined through no fault of your own – and now, the track’s been repaved, throwing another unknown into the fantasy fire. However, it does remain a solid strategy to look at the history of drivers at Bristol, trying to pick the performers who have been consistently at the front of the field throughout their careers.
As for the concrete, the new surface at Bristol may help some and hurt others. It appears as though there are two racing grooves already, so there may be more people sticking their noses into places where they don’t belong – and that may result in more cautions than we have seen the last couple of years. Expect Gordon, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin to be near the front, and don’t count out Kevin Harvick and Kenseth; they have proven track records at the bullring in the mountains.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Stewart is on his typical summer tear. He has won three of the last five races, finishing in the top 10 for the other two, to put him within striking distance of second place in the points. That’s great momentum to add to some he’ll already have heading into Saturday night. Stewart had a dominant car during the spring race at Bristol, and most likely would have won if his car hadn’t broken down. Stewart’s average finish is not too impressive here, but with such a good run that was spoiled in the spring – in the Car of Tomorrow’s debut, no less – he should have enough to overcome that.
Hamlin was another driver that easily could have won the spring race had his car not had a fuel pickup problem. Hamlin has been very hot the last three weekends with consecutive top-five finishes in the last three races. The team is peaking at just about the right time, and will most likely be in contention all night Saturday.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Juan Pablo Montoya is a marked man. He has been upsetting quite a few drivers over the last couple of months, and Bristol is the perfect place for those men to try and exact some revenge. It will be very surprising to see Montoya make it through this race without spending some time facing the wrong direction. Add to that his only previous race at the track resulted in a 32nd-place finish, and it does not bode well for the fiery Colombian.
David Ragan has been doing an admirable job finishing races this year, but he doesn’t finish them very high in the standings. In the spring, he was 26th at Bristol, and he hasn’t done much since then to make anyone feel like he will finish much higher in this race. While Ragan will most likely bring the car home in one piece, chances are he most likely won’t do it near the front of the pack.
Roll the Dice:
Earnhardt Jr. is in desperate need of a strong finish in this race. He is 163 points out of the Chase right now, and needs to get it below 100 this weekend if he really wants to have a serious chance at making it in. His average finish at Bristol is 12.1, and he has been in the top 15 in the last eight races at the track. With DEI showing strength in their CoT program, expect Junior to have a very legitimate shot at the win this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
After two straight weeks of disappointment culminating in being stuck in the Michigan mud, Gordon will be looking to bounce back in a big way this weekend at Bristol. Right now, he is tied with teammate Johnson for the most bonus points heading into the Chase (40), and with the playoffs coming ever closer, he would like to push forward and separate himself from the pack. Another tie Gordon will be looking to break is his five wins at Bristol throughout his career – one more gives him the nod over Kurt Busch for most wins for an active driver at this track. After a strong third-place finish here in the CoT earlier in the year, look for Gordon to do whatever it takes to get the win this weekend.
Harvick has now gone three weeks without a top-10 finish. Sitting in 10th in the Chase standings, he needs to crank things up in a hurry as the heat gets turned up in these final three races. With an average finish at Bristol of 10.1, which leads all active drivers, Harvick should be able to turn in another strong performance like he did back in March, when he was fourth in the first CoT event held at the track.
Sit ‘Em Down:
This weekend’s race will be a good test for Martin Truex Jr. to see if he can continue to perform under the pressure of trying to make his first Chase. Currently 11th in the points, Truex does have a near 200-point cushion over his teammate; but he can’t afford to let his guard down. If he is going to take a hit before the Chase begins, Bristol looks to be that place. In three career starts, he has mustered a best finish of 18th and was 37th back in March. Truex may be on a roll right now – but his past record at Bristol makes him a risky proposition.
Other than a fifth-place run at Watkins Glen, Robby Gordon hasn’t had much to brag about the past month or so. And while he’s been running better this year on a variety of tracks, Bristol is one he has never seemed to get the hang of. In 12 starts, his best career finish is 12th, and Gordon hasn’t finished higher than 26th in the last four races held here. No doubt, he’s a man to leave on your bench this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
After a frustrating weekend at Michigan that saw his day end with a spin, Greg Biffle comes to Bristol still looking for his first win of the season. While a win may not be in the cards for the No. 16 team this weekend, a strong finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Biffle scored a fifth-place finish at Bristol in March – his fifth top 10 there in nine starts – and has an average finish of 10.3 at Thunder Valley. If you’re looking for a mid-ranked driver to use this weekend, Biffle is definitely worth a second look.
Mike: Do you think Gordon is going to be in contention to win on Saturday night? I’m thinking they are going to be experimenting and possibly be out of the race before the end of it all.
Cami: Oh yeah, he will. He wants those bonus points back that he spun away at the Glen. Going for wins is all he needs to focus on the next three weeks – he won’t want to go into the Chase on a whimper. Plus, check this out: two of the four times that races have been rain-delayed this year, he’s come back to win the next week. Last time I checked, I believe there was a rain delay at Michigan…
Mike: Wow, look at you pulling out the Jimmy the Greek stats. I am wondering if you are going to be sorry about the Harvick pick, though. I am thinking he and JPM are going to end up in a tangle this week.
Cami: I think if they do tangle, Harvick will be on the punting end and push him out of the way. I’ll admit, I was surprised to see Harvick had such a good average finish at Bristol, and he had a solid top five there back in March. Good for him, because he needs to get some momentum quick. Meanwhile, I see you’re riding the JGR CoT bandwagon. You’re not worried they’ll hand over another win?
Mike: I am a little worried about it. I hate putting all of my eggs in one team’s basket, but both cars had a very good shot at winning the spring race. I’m thinking Stewart is on a roll, and Hamlin is not far behind him in terms of average finish over the last few weeks. By the way, we’re going to get some hate mail for not sitting an Evernham driver this week.
Cami: I know. That’s become our “thing.” But we don’t want to be too predictable, either. Plus, Kasey Kahne is out of the top 25 so I couldn’t sit him; looks like we only have a few weeks left to sit Elliott Sadler before he’s in the same boat. Speaking of sinking ships… you really think your boy Junior has it in him to make a push into the Chase?
Mike: It is going to be a tough row to hoe, but he has run well at Bristol, California and Richmond in the past. They have been fast the last few races – just struggled to get the finishes. I am sure they’re going to put every effort into it. I still think Harvick or Clint Bowyer could slip up and fall out as well.
Cami: I’d bet on Bowyer on that one more than Harvick. But I guess we’ll see how it pans out.
Crank ‘Em Up- 13.9
Sit ‘Em Down- 22.7
Roll The Dice- 18.9
Crank ‘Em Up- 12.5
Sit ‘Em Down- 22.5
Roll The Dice- 17.5