Love it or hate it, the new Bristol Motor Speedway is a far cry from its older, one-grooved brethren. Perhaps the only half-mile oval out there that can boast legitimate three-wide racing, Thunder Valley may no longer boast the wrecks that made its night race so famous, but still poses a treacherous challenge to those striving to score their berths in the Chase. Still prone to the unpredictable, sparks will fly up front Saturday night as the laps wind down… and the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider will have your roster climbing the infield ramp to victory lane.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at Bristol Motor Speedway (since 2005, active drivers)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 9 starts, 8.4
Jeff Gordon, 9 starts, 9.9
Marcos Ambrose, 1 start, 10.0
Kyle Busch, 9 starts, 11.2
Carl Edwards, 9 starts, 11.8
Plenty is being said this week about Gordon‘s back and whether or not that will impact his performance as the Cup circuit heads to two of its most demanding short tracks. But not enough is being said about his track record at Bristol. The guy’s got five wins there, has scored back-to-back top fives in Thunder Valley, and has led laps in eight of the last 10 events. Plus, in case MIS didn’t make it obvious, the No. 24 team is on their “A” game right now. Bad back or not, Gordon will be far from the back of the pack Saturday night. – Bryan
Kyle Busch has been having a bit of a run of bad luck as of late in the Cup Series. Back-to-back finishes in the 30s at Chicago and Indianapolis, with a 16th at Pocono and a 23rd at Michigan, have him on the outside looking in at the Chase. That means pretty much nothing when you head into Bristol, though. It is a short track, and making the car go fast can have a lot more to do with the driver than most other places. The last time the series was in northeast Tennessee, Busch went to victory lane in dominating fashion. And the first time the circuit came to Bristol with the new car, Busch won as well. In five races at the track, he’s had four top-10 finishes, with three of those being first or second. Look for Bristol to be the medicine for what ails young Mr. Busch, as he will have a great chance to sweep the track for the year this weekend. – Mike
Clint Bowyer always seems to score points under pressure. Back in 2005, when trying to do the impossible in running down eventual Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer made the chase for that trophy exciting, narrowing the gap through the month of October before eventually falling a mere 84 markers short. This year, Bowyer and the No. 33 team are finding their stride at just the right time once again; four top 10s in the last five races have this new squad back in Chase contention. That said, Bristol is the perfect track to keep that momentum going; the driver has five consecutive top-15 finishes on the high banks. – Bryan
Hamlin finally shook the monkey off of his back a couple of weeks ago and took the checkered flag at Pocono. He followed that up with back-to-back 10th-place finishes at Watkins Glen and Michigan, runs which have all but clinched him a spot in the Chase. That should allow the No. 11 to go for broke; and at Bristol, that’s a good thing, with his last three races there resulting in sixth-, third- and second-place finishes respectively. The driver’s had a great feel for the track in the new car configuration, and some bad luck has cost him at least two more wins there. Count on him knocking on the door of victory lane once again. – Mike
Regan Smith wasn’t even originally scheduled to run at Bristol this year, but his solid, steady performance in the No. 78 resulted in the Furniture Row team adding “the night race” to their slate. And why not? Smith has averaged an 11th-place start in his Bristol career (so being outside the Top 35 should be of no concern) and finished 14th in his last start at the track in the No. 01 car for DEI. Plus, what better driver to have at Bristol than one with no DNFs in his whole career? – Bryan
Terry Labonte took part in two of the most famous finishes in the history of the Bristol Motor Speedway. Dale Earnhardt spun him across the start/finish line for the win in 1995; and then, four years later, Earnhardt spun Labonte on the backstretch to prevent him from winning. That said, this is more of a sentimental pick than a scientific pick. Labonte is driving for John Carter under the newly-formed RCM Racing No. 08, who is just trying to get a foothold in the sport. They can’t find a sponsor to put on the hood, but Carter refuses to start-and-park. So with Labonte’s smooth driving style and patience, look for him to stick around long enough to garner a top-20 finish. – Mike
The Last Word
Bristol is famous for drivers getting into trouble through no fault of their own. A racer can be having a fantastic night, then suddenly be swallowed up by someone else’s wreck and have it all go wrong without being anything other than an innocent victim. But if your driver is fortunate enough to avoid all of the melees, your best bet is going to be picking those with a strong history of solid finishes at the track. They have been coming to the half-mile with this car long enough now that most of the teams have figured it out… so there will be no specific advantages between those teams that may have the upper hand with the CoT at intermediate ovals. With the track taking a toll sometimes on those with little experience, you can also pick up a grizzled veteran like Terry Labonte for a small amount, getting a decent return on investment to free up more dollars for your higher picks.
Results of our Experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games
Game of Tomorrow
Bryan – 6257
Mike – 5865
Bryan – 4655
Mike – 4623
Bryan – 11889
Mike – 10988
To help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as the total for the season.
Bryan – 271 8085
Mike – 355 7846
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