Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday

As NASCAR’s regular season winds down with just three races remaining, a number of drivers have a number of different agendas. For some, it’s about making the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Guys like Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose are battling for the two wild-card spots and need either a win or top-5 finishes to make the Chase.

Others, guys solidly in the top 10, can simply go for the win. Guys like Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brad Keselowski can experiment a little without the worry of not making the Chase. Or they can gamble a little and go for the win, too, with their high reward, low risk situation.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to the reconfigured Bristol Saturday night at 7 on ABC. Will the return to the old track bring back the beatin’, bangin’, helmet-throwing style that made Bristol famous? We’ll find out for sure Saturday.

Top 5 Picks

Kyle Busch – He’s just outside the Chase picture and needs at least a good finish, but more importantly a win. He’s got five of them at Bristol, so he’s a must pick here.

Jeff Gordon – It’s pretty much win one of these next three races or miss the Chase for the four-time champion. He’s also got five wins here and the return to the former track style could help him.

Brad Keselowski – He’s been excellent lately, and it seems no matter what kind of track the Sprint Cup guys are on, the No. 2 is contending for a win. Keselowski has two wins at Bristol and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him at or close the front again.

Carl Edwards – Much like Gordon, he’s desperate for a win. He has two of them at Bristol and since he’s 12th in points now, a win would put him in the Chase heading into the final two regular season races.

Kevin Harvick – He’s without a win this year and, in the past, hasn’t been afraid to use his bumper to get by slower cars on the short tracks. He’s also got a new / old crew chief this week in Gil Martin, so maybe familiarity will help him win for the third time at Bristol.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda – There were a lot of tough choices this week. I kept going back to Ryan Newman and I may regret not picking him. He’s usually a good qualifier, which helps at Bristol, where track position is everything. He’s been relatively good on short tracks, too, with an average finish of 11.9 since the beginning of the 2010 season.

ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP
Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared at Michigan.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 4th. He was solid for much of the day, though never really a threat to win.

Jimmie Johnson – 27th. He had it won, until his car decided to display its grenade engine in the final laps.

Greg Biffle – 1st. He said he would have caught Johnson before the end of the race. He was fast at the end for sure, so maybe the fastest car did win.

Carl Edwards . – 6th. He was solid again, but the No. 99 really needs a win to make the Chase and he knows solid won’t quite cut it.

Tony Stewart – 32nd. Also the victim of a Hendrick grenade engine in the early going.

Season Stats
115 Predictions
14 Wins
40 top 5s
54 top 10s

Grade for the week: B+. I thought I had the winner in Johnson, but still had it in Biffle. So, in the end, it was three of the top six, and easily could have been four of the top seven.

One last thing: At some tracks, it’s true, qualifying is not a big deal. But that’s not the case at Bristol. Of the 103 races there, the winner has started 10th or better 82 times, and 52 of the winners have come from the first four starting positions.

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